Stop the New Madrid Levee to Protect Mississippi River Wildlife!

The endangered interior least tern can be spotted along the Mississippi River in the New Madrid Floodway. (USFWS Endangered Species/Flickr)
Meet the endangered interior least tern. These quirky, darting birds migrate from North America to Central and South America, and rely on areas along the Missouri, Ohio, Red, Rio Grande, and Mississippi river systems for breeding habitat. One particular spot they like to frequent is a wetland environment along the Mississippi River, where bald eagles nest, fish spawn and grow up, and the rare swamp rabbit can be spotted – the New Madrid Floodway.

1,600 Miles of Levees

The New Madrid Floodway is one of only four federally designated flood zones along the Mississippi River. The Floodway is walled off from the Mississippi River by levees, except for a quarter-mile gap at the bottom of the Floodway. This gap is precious. It is the only place in Missouri where the River can still reach its floodplain, and a rare gap in the nearly impregnable 1,600 miles of levees we’ve built on the banks of the lower Mississippi River from St. Louis all the way to the Gulf of Mexico. This rare and important river-floodplain connection sustains wetlands that filter water pollution, stores floodwaters to protect nearby river towns from flooding, and provides vital habitat for a large number of rare and endangered species like the interior least tern and the swamp rabbit.

But this precious and rare floodplain is in danger.

The rare swamp rabbit is found within the New Madrid Floodway. Its dense fur acts to repel water, making it possible for the rabbit to swim across bodies of water to find food or escape predators. The rabbit gained some fame after a 1979 incident with Jimmy Carter, when he saw one swimming toward his boat. (Missouri Department of Conservation)

A Scheme to Sever the Connection

The Army Corps of Engineers is pushing the St. Johns/New Madrid Levee Project forward, a 60-year-old scheme to construct a 60-foot tall levee to plug this important gap.  The proposed New Madrid Levee would sever this last remaining connection between the Mississippi and its Missouri floodplain in order to protect agricultural interests within the floodway.

But the project will have a devastating effect on the environment and the fish and wildlife that rely on the floodplain.  The project will also put river communities at increased risk of flooding.

The New Madrid Levee would wall off some 80,000 acres of regularly inundated floodplain from the river, including approximately 50,000 acres of wetlands. This floodplain shelters Mississippi River fish as they spawn and raise their young in its warm, calm waters, protecting them from the river’s colder, higher velocity waters.

Protect the River’s Wildlife

According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the project “will result in significant losses of regionally and nationally important fish and wildlife resources which cannot be adequately mitigated.”

In other words, the environmental damage is so extensive that the Corps of Engineers cannot possibly replace the fish and wildlife habitat and the wetlands and floodplain areas it is destroying, which is required as a matter of law.

A Corps of Engineers Independent Review Panel for this project even stated that the “loss of this last remaining connection and its ecosystem functioning would be the ‘straw that broke the camel’s back’ in terms of the total cumulative impact” to the natural ecosystem.

It’s time to put an end to this destructive project once and for all.

Spread the Word

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Help spread the word about protecting the swamp rabbits, least terns, and fish that depend on the last remaining connection between the Mississippi River and it’s Missouri Floodplain.

If you are a resident of Missouri, send a message urging Governor Nixon to stop the New Madrid Floodway levee.