Mayor Tim Kabat: Local efforts key to protecting Mississippi River, combating climate change

La Crosse Tribune

Dec. 13–La Crosse Mayor Tim Kabat spoke Tuesday about the importance of local efforts to address climate and water-related issues around the Mississippi River, stressing the economic importance of the river to La Crosse and other river cities.

“Let’s face it. It’s on all of us to save the world. It’s not gonna happen from the folks in Washington,” Kabat told the League of Women Voters during its December Lunch and Learn session.

League of Women Voters member Maureen Kinney introduced the mayor at the event, saying the topic was a familiar one for many members.

“The League has been involved in water issues for years and years and years — quality and quantity,” Kinney said. “(The) League is a problem-solver and wants to help deal with water issues and solving problems. Maybe the mayor will give us some ideas today on how we can help.”

Kabat updated the nonpartisan group on the work of the Mississippi River Cities and Towns Initiative, which is a group of mayors from cities of all sizes in 10 states bordering the Mississippi River, from Bemidji, Minn., to New Orleans. The group addresses river corridor issues such as water quality, which affects everything from agriculture and tourism to public health.

“We’ve been breaking records in a bad way for the last several years,” Kabat said.

The mayor cited climate-related problems that affected cities up and down the river, including 500-year flood events in 2011, a 50-year drought in 2012 and five 100-year floods in the past six years.

“Even this past summer, while we were getting way more rainfall than normal, parts of the Dakotas, parts of Iowa were near drought, so you’ve got these very acute things going on,” Kabat said.

“Just in our region alone there were millions of dollars in destruction of property from storm events,” he added.

With no reason to think those storm events will stop any time soon, MRCTI formed to tackle the problem from an economic perspective.

“Obviously, the Mississippi River, we live in it, we recreate, we enjoy all the benefits. It’s a huge impact, not only nationally, but also on a global level,” Kabat said.

The river has an estimated economic impact of nearly $500 billion per year, he said, including manufacturing, agriculture and tourism dollars.

“The river is a big deal for our economy,” he said.

MRCTI advocates at the federal and state levels for greater mitigation funding and additional incentives to get people to create more sustainable practices in both public and private sectors.

“We’re looking at ways to prevent problems before they happen,” Kabat said.

Meanwhile, the mayors involved take what they learn through the organization and promote local efforts and support sustainable practices at the city level.

Kabat cited La Crosse’s blufflands protection program, Friends of the La Crosse River Marsh’s efforts to restore native species, the city’s various floodplain relief programs and its focus on green infrastructure.

“You might notice that as you’re going around town, when we are fixing streets, the boulevards now in a lot of those places are in areas where it’s meant to catch stormwater runoff to help for that to percolate more slowly so that it can clean out and get rid of some of the metals and petroleum and those types of things,” Kabat said.

The mayor called on league members to support MRCTI’s efforts and advocate additional funding for things such as the water pollution control grant program, the pre-disaster mitigation grant program, the Drinking Water and Clean Water State Revolving Loan Funds and the USGS Water Resources program.

“It’s going to be on all of us. We’ve got to figure out how to do this and fix these things,” Kabat said.

He invited the group to visit the organization’s website, mrcti.org, for a full list of its priorities.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Waterways Council, Inc.