MEMPHIS, Tenn., April 6, 2017 – Twelve members of the Mekong River Commission, headquartered in Vientiane, Laos, spent five days in the Lower Mississippi Valley sharing knowledge and learning from their counterparts on the Mississippi River Commission. They arrived in Memphis, Tenn., on April 2 and traveled from there to a variety of locations in the region.
The two commissions formed a partnership in 2010 built around common interests in water resource development and management, and sharing of technical expertise and lessons learned.
Founded in 1995, the Mekong River Commission is composed of representatives from Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam. Their official purpose is “to promote and co-ordinate sustainable management and development of water and related resources for the countries’ mutual benefit and the people’s well-being by implementing strategic programmes and activities and providing scientific information and policy advice.”
“This was the third time the Mekong group visited the United States,” said Elizabeth Burks, Chief of Project Development Branch and Assistant Deputy of Project Management for the Memphis District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. “Their first visit took place in 2013 when members of the Mekong River Commission went to Washington, D.C., Chicago, Paducah, Ky., and Nashville.”
Burks said the group also visited several southern cities on the Mississippi River during a visit here in August 2016.
“Then in January 2017, a delegation from the Mississippi River Commission traveled to Southeast Asia to meet with the Mekong River group,” Burks said. “This visit to Memphis is a continuation of the ongoing partnership that we are building between the two commissions.”
The Mekong River Commission members started their busy schedule of events and activities on April 2. They first toured the Mud Island Museum in Memphis, learning about the history of the area, work that the Corps of Engineers has done for more than 130 years, and walked a 2,000-foot-long scale model of the Mississippi River.
The next day they traveled from Memphis to Caruthersville, Mo., where they viewed flood control works like levees and floodwalls and learned about the Corps of Engineers’ ongoing work to prevent flooding in the area. From there they proceeded on to Hickman, Ky., where they boarded the Mississippi River Commission’s Motor Vessel Mississippi to attend one of the Commission’s semi-annual public meetings.
Dr. Tran Hong Ha, Vietnam’s Minister of Natural Resources and Environment, said he hoped to take back information on the Corps’ stakeholder engagement process. He added that he appreciated how the Mississippi River Commission listened to all the people at the public meeting.
On April 4, the Mekong group attended a similar public meeting in Memphis, Tenn., then traveled down the Mississippi River on the Motor Vessel Mississippi to Tunica, Miss. During this cruise on the river, they met with Mississippi River Commission president Maj. Gen. Michael C. Wehr and members of the presidentially appointed body. That afternoon they left the vessel to tour the Tunica River Park Museum before attending a dinner hosted by the Yazoo (Mississippi) Levee Board.
The next morning the Mekong River group traveled to DeValls Bluff, Ark., where they toured the Grand Prairie Pumping Station that is under construction there. The pumping station is part of an overall water management plan designed to protect and preserve overused underground aquifers in that region that supply water for irrigation and human use.
The Mekong group departed Memphis the morning of April 6, and traveled to Portland, Ore., to visit the Bonneville Hydropower Dam, before returning to their respective countries in Southeast Asia.
The Mississippi River Commission, established in 1879, is composed of seven members, each nominated by the President of the United States and confirmed by the Senate. Three of the organization's members are officers of the Corps of Engineers; one member is from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration; and three members are civilians, two of whom are civil engineers.
General duties of the commission include recommendation of policy and work programs, the study of and reporting upon the necessity for modifications or additions to the flood control and navigation project, recommendation upon any matters authorized by law, and making semi-annual inspection trips. The duties of the commission include the entire length of the Mississippi River from its headwaters at Lake Itasca, Minn., to Head of Passes, La., where the Mississippi River empties into the Gulf of Mexico.