Aerial photo of the Mississippi River as barges navigate the water.
Barges travel along the upper Mississippi River near Iowa. © Robert J. Hurt

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Mississippi River Watershed Receives a Grade of C-

America’s Watershed Initiative (AWI) released its second Mississippi River Watershed Report Card, resulting in a grade of C- for the entire watershed, which covers more than 41 percent of the continental United States and 31 states.

The Mississippi River Watershed Report Card brings together data from multiple sectors and basins, allowing an examination of the status and trends in the watershed. The report card measures the health of the Mississippi River Watershed across six goal areas: water quality and ecosystems; flood control and flood risk management; recreation; transportation; economy, and; water supply.

The Report Card also grades the five major sub-basins—the Upper Mississippi River, Lower Mississippi River, the Ohio and Tennessee Rivers, the Arkansas and Red Rivers, the Missouri River. AWI last prepared a Mississippi River Watershed Report Card in 2015, resulting in a grade of D+. Despite some modest improvements, the watershed remains threatened by more frequent and extreme flooding, aging infrastructure, chemical pollution, nutrient runoff and continued urbanization and agricultural intensification. 

Without this, it’s too difficult to know whether we’re making a difference at the scale of the Mississippi River.

Michael A. Reuter Director, Midwest Division, The Nature Conservancy

“The Mississippi River Watershed, which shapes thousands of communities and powers the nation, faces pressing challenges, with significant implications for the health and safety of all Americans, as well as our economy,” said Kimberly Lutz, Executive Director of America’s Watershed Initiative. “As the United States looks to recover and rebuild our economy amid the coronavirus pandemic, the health and resilience of this critical natural resource—through investments in infrastructure, research, education and flood and water management—must be part of the solution.”

Michael Reuter, who serves as the U.S. Midwest director for TNC and who played a key role in launching AWI, said a national investment in scientific data is necessary to inform the management of the massive Mississippi River watershed. “Without this, it’s too difficult to know whether we’re making a difference at the scale of the Mississippi River. Without consistent standards and funding to measure water quality, flooding and more, we are driving our best car without regularly checking the oil or kicking the tires.”

For more information on the 2020 Report Card, including the methodology, visit https://www.americaswatershed.org/reportcard.

The Nature Conservancy is a global conservation organization dedicated to conserving the lands and waters on which all life depends. Guided by science, we create innovative, on-the-ground solutions to our world's toughest challenges so that nature and people can thrive together. We are tackling climate change, conserving lands, waters and oceans at an unprecedented scale, providing food and water sustainably and helping make cities more sustainable. Working in 72 countries and territories: 38 by direct conservation impact and 34 through partners, we use a collaborative approach that engages local communities, governments, the private sector, and other partners. To learn more, visit www.nature.org or follow @nature_press on Twitter.