New Report Shows Urgent Need for Action to Protect the Mississippi River

Preserving clean water in the river’s headwaters area now can save state billions.

Minneapolis, MN

A new report shows that taking action to protect water in the Mississippi River’s headwaters area benefits residents, communities and businesses and saves the state billions in avoided cleanup costs.

The Nature Conservancy partnered with Ecolab to analyze the economic impact of preserving water quality through targeted land protection and restoration in the river’s headwaters area, which stretches from Lake Itasca through St. Cloud to the metro area.

The report, “Mississippi Headwaters: The Business Case for Conservation,” released today by The Nature Conservancy, shows that acting now to protect water by conserving 108,000 acres of land and restoring another 100,000 acres would yield $490 million in direct and indirect benefits. Moreover, preserving clean waters in the region would spare Minnesotans billions of dollars in future costs associated with cleaning up polluted water.

“Minnesotans depend on clean water for drinking, for recreation, and to keep our economy moving and growing,” said Peggy Ladner, director of The Nature Conservancy in Minnesota. “Where the Mississippi begins in Minnesota, the river is in excellent condition, but downstream the loss of an increasing amount of forestland and wetlands to development and agriculture is impacting water quality. We’ve done the science and identified the most critical remaining lands to protect. If we don’t take action, the river’s headwaters area, also known as Lake Country, one of the most beautiful and beloved areas in the state, will be at risk.”

“Water has always been central to our identity in Minnesota, and to our economy,” said Doug Baker, Chairman of the Board and CEO of Ecolab, Inc. “The question today is whether we act now to protect our waters or face the far more difficult and expensive challenge of cleaning them up later. The sooner we act, the lower the cost and the greater the benefit. We can’t afford to wait.”

The river’s headwaters area comprises about 13 million acres of land in central Minnesota, including land along rivers and streams that flow into the Mississippi river upstream of the metro area. Near where the Mississippi begins, the water is still clean, but conversion of natural lands to housing, food production and industrial development is lowering water quality in lakes, rivers and streams in the region and in the river itself.

According to the report, protecting and restoring a little more than 200,000 acres in the headwaters area would yield $130 million in direct benefits including avoided water treatment costs, retained property values and taxes, reduced flood damages and retained tourism revenue and jobs. An additional $360 million in indirect benefits would be attained from cleaner air, mitigating carbon emissions and in avoided public health costs from respiratory ailments, cancer and other illnesses.

Significantly, protecting the river now avoids billions in future costs, as cleaning dirty water is substantially more expensive than protecting clean water before it is polluted.

The Mississippi River and its headwaters area provide drinking water for more than 44 percent of Minnesota’s population. About 1.2 million people in the state get their drinking water from the Mississippi including residents in rural communities, St. Cloud, Minneapolis, St. Paul and several suburbs. An additional 1.3 million Minnesotans rely on groundwater wells in the region.

Research shows that it would cost an estimated $2.7 billion to restore the Mississippi if it becomes as degraded as the Minnesota River in southern Minnesota. Restoring lakes throughout the Mississippi River’s headwaters area could cost an additional $4 billion.

Download report: Mississippi Headwaters: The Business Case for Conservation.

About Ecolab

A trusted partner at nearly three million customer locations, Ecolab (NYSE: ECL) is the global leader in water, hygiene and energy technologies and services that protect people and vital resources. With annual sales of $15 billion and 49,000 associates, Ecolab delivers comprehensive solutions and on-site service to promote safe food, maintain clean environments, optimize water and energy use, and improve operational efficiencies for customers in the food, healthcare, energy, hospitality and industrial markets in more than 170 countries around the world. For more Ecolab news and information, visit

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 or follow @nature_press on Twitter.