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Mississippi River Watershed Report Card

Posted by Content Coordinator on Wednesday, October 21st, 2015


The Report Card was built in the five basins

The Report Card team worked with experts in a multi-year process to analyze data and provide grades for the six goals in each of the main basins that make up the Mississippi River Watershed—the Upper Mississippi River Basin, the Lower Mississippi River Basin, the Ohio River & Tennessee River Basin, the Arkansas River & Red River Basin, and the Missouri River Basin. Data was analyzed and grades assigned for each basin and for the entire watershed. Not surprisingly, grades for several goals showed consistency throughout the watershed, and some showed significant variety reflecting the diversity of the watershed. 

 The Report Card was built in the five basins

The Report Card reveals challenges ahead

The Mississippi River Watershed Report Card conveys many inherent challenges in managing the watershed for the six broad goals of America’s Watershed Initiative. Pressures on these goals will likely increase in coming decades, as demands for water increase, infrastructure ages, and our climate changes.

The region faces interconnected challenges

Regional changes from economic growth, land development, and changes in weather will add pressure to already stressed infrastructure and natural resources. Clean water for habitat, water supplies, and recreation impacted by pollution will continue to be under pressure due to increased demands on the watershed from population growth, agriculture, transportation, and land development. Groundwater supplies already in decline by overuse will be further affected by increases in irrigation and more severe droughts. Locks and dams already in weakened condition from maintenance funding shortfalls will be stressed further by more intense weather events, suggesting that failures could be more frequent and costly.

Connected goals require coordinated management

The six goals identified by America’s Watershed Initiative are as highly interconnected as the challenges facing the watershed. Decisions affecting one goal will impact the others, but we don’t need to advance one goal at the expense of others. Management of the Mississippi River Watershed to meet its challenges requires a mindset of opportunity—a coordinated approach that integrates multiple stakeholder needs, instead of an approach that advocates for single objectives independently.

Mississippi Watershed Results

The Mississippi River Watershed can and must do better

The Mississippi River is the backbone of America. Our economy and the future of our country depend on sustaining a healthy, functioning watershed. Overall the Mississippi River Watershed earned a D+; a poor result. The grades reveal a number of challenges—the Transportation and Flood Control & Risk Reduction goal areas, and the watershed-wide indicators for Coastal Wetlands Loss and the Hypoxic “Dead Zone” in the Gulf of Mexico all received D scores.

The Report Card results demonstrate that we are underinvesting to meet the six goals for the Mississippi River Watershed. Our current trajectory is unsustainable and we must work together to dramatically raise the grade for most of the goals. Realistic, timely and innovative funding and collaborative actions must be pursued and implemented.

The Mississippi River Watershed has diminished as a healthy and sustaining water resource over the last several decades. To raise the grade, we need integrated management to reflect the relationships between the different goals and basins, and increased participation by partners and stakeholders working together on specific actions to improve the watershed.

The Mississippi River Watershed is a world-class asset to our nation, and we need to significantly improve information and management systems to make more informed and efficient decisions to improve its condition.

Download full version (PDF): Mississippi River Watershed Report Card
View interactive report (

About America’s Watershed Initiative
America’s Watershed Initiative is a collaboration working with hundreds of business, government, academic, and civic organizations to find solutions for the challenges of managing the Mississippi River and the more than 250 rivers that flow into it. Only by working together—coordinated, focused and for the long term—will we make meaningful progress to raise the grades for America’s Watershed, for our future, and for our children’s future.

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