$2B annually needed to improve Mississippi River water quality


Frequent flooding, degraded water quality and aging infrastructure will require $2 billion in annual funding for multiple years to remedy, according to a report grading the management of the vast Mississippi River watershed.

“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,” America’s Watershed Initiative (AWI) Executive Director Kimberly Lutz said in a statement, noting the Mississippi watershed that spans two-fifths of the continental U.S. and 31 states faces “pressing challenges.”

AWI Tuesday released its 2020 report for the Mississippi River and its more than 250 tributaries, issuing a C- grade, a slight improvement from the D+ grade it issued for the watershed in its first 2015 report.

AWI was created as a multi-state initiative as a collaborative organization to work with business, government, academics and civic organizations to coordinate the challenges of managing the Mississippi River basin.

Its five-year report card was developed jointly with the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science and officials from state governments, regional universities and advocacy groups.

As in its 2015 report, AWI maintains the watershed is threatened by increasingly frequent, extreme flooding that is contributing to “very poor” water quality inundated with sediments and nutrients.

Missouri’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Interstate Waters Division coordinates water-related issues that traverse political boundaries. Interstate waters in Missouri include the Mississippi, Missouri and White rivers and their basins.

According to the DBR, Missouri “shares” water with its eight neighboring states and 26 other downstream or upstream states and two Canadian provinces within the Missouri and Mississippi watersheds.

The Grand, Osage, Chariton and Gasconade watersheds are sub-basins of the Missouri River basin. The Missouri River basin itself, along with the White and Arkansas rivers, are within the Mississippi River basin, which is subdivided into Upper Mississippi and Lower Mississippi basins. Both Mississippi River basins include waters in Missouri.

According to AWI, its 2020 Mississippi River Watershed Report Card cites “progress toward achieving the goals” established in 2015 and “highlights some of the important work that partners across the watershed are doing to make positive change, and documents the work and investment that remains.”

Among its primary recommendations:

  • Invest $2 billion “in annual funding through private and government sources to address critical needs in inland navigation, regenerative agriculture, ecosystem function, and flood and water management.”
  • Establish “a science agenda,” improve data information systems, and report progress against goals to inform decisions and ensure wise use of funds.
  • Educate to create “an informed citizenry” to be “coupled with transparent and data-informed decision-making” that “will facilitate progress toward goals.”
  • Act with “greater collaboration among complementary and competing interests” to “improve our ability to manage in a way that values all uses of this tremendous resource.”

The report spans the five sub-basins of the Mississippi River — the Upper Mississippi (C grade), Lower Mississippi (C-), Missouri (C), Arkansas/Red (D+) and Ohio/Tennessee (C). Only the Ohio/Tennessee basin does not traverse the state of Missouri.
The report analyses 17 different metrics in six categories: Water quality/ecosystem, recreation, economy, water supply, flood control and transportation.

It gave a F grade for overall water quality and D grades for flood control, levee conditions and holding violators responsible.

AWI Report Card Committee Chair Larry Weber said in the press release that the challenges faced by states within the Mississippi basin demand urgent action, including “smart investments in scientific information to improve decision-making and coordinated on-the-ground implementation.”

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