Tim Maiers is executive director of the Upper Mississippi, Illinois and Missouri Rivers Association. The organization serves as an advocate for flood control and navigation on the three rivers that are vital to moving Midwestern grain, among other things.
UMIMRA was formed in 1954 as a loose network of levee and drainage districts on the Mississippi River between St. Louis and the Quad Cities, which include Moline and Rock Island, Illinois, and Davenport and Bettendorf, Iowa. Since then it has grown to incorporate portions of the Illinois and Missouri Rivers, and extends south from St. Louis.
Maiers was born and raised on a farm in Adams County, in western Illinois. He initially intended to go into farm management, but changed his mind and got involved with Illinois Farm Bureau, becoming manager of the Christian County office.
He subsequently worked for the Illinois Pork Producers Association in public relations, a position he held for 17 years. In 2015 he moved back to the family farm and started a consulting business. He has led UMIMRA since 2019.
We recently talked with Maiers about the organization’s purpose and goals.
IFT: How has the organization grown since its inception, and how is it organized?
MAIERS: Since 1993, UMIMRA has grown on several fronts — to several hundred members, a diverse membership, and a wide range of issues dealt with by the Board of Directors. The Board continues to be elected by members at an annual meeting. There are at least four representatives from each state — Illinois, Iowa and Missouri — who serve on the board. Diverse professional interests are also represented. What began as an organization to improve agricultural levees is now the only grassroots organization that is dedicated to rural and urban prosperity and environmental stewardship through wise development of river resources in the Upper Mississippi Valley.
IFT: UMIMRA started out as a group dealing with flood control. Is that still the main purpose, or is navigation also a point of interest?
People are also reading…
MAIERS: The focus is still flood control, but we also work on navigation issues. Without flood control, nothing else really matters. You can have navigation and environmental improvements and all these things, but if you don’t have flood protection it’s pointless and worthless. It’s still our No. 1 priority but we have expanded into other areas.”
IFT: Have you addressed other issues, such as modernization of locks and dams on the rivers?
MAIERS: We’ve tried to tie in more, especially with supply-chain issues. We’ve done work with Corn Belt Ports group to get ports recognized. It’s not a matter of if but when the next flood comes or high water. We have to be able to maintain that to keep our transportation going.
IFT: Many people regard the inland waterway system as traffic down the rivers. But there is more to it than that, right?
MAIERS: Rail lines and highways are protected by levees. There is a lot of transportation outside of barge traffic.
IFT: How have the challenges facing levee districts and river transportation changed since the organization was first formed nearly 70 years ago?
MAIERS: U.S. Geological Survey put out a report that over the past few years the Upper Mississippi River is receiving more rainfall than anywhere in the country. That was a huge flood event in 1993, but since that time and the floods of 2018 we’re dealing with more water now, it seems, on a more regular basis.
IFT: The association works as a lobbying arm in issues related to the Upper Mississippi region and its environs. What areas are you addressing today regarding federal legislation?
MAIERS: Efforts are underway to work on language for the Water Resources Development Act for 2024 even though we just passed a bill. We’re trying to get language in there that would give our levee districts authority to maintain protection given during the 1954 flood control act. Now, with more rainfall, haven’t updated levee design standards. We’re still using the information based in the 1954 flood control act, which stemmed from 1940s. We’re well beyond that now, with the water levels and flood frequency we’re dealing with.