WASHINGTON DC (April 19, 2022) — American Rivers today named the Mississippi River one of America’s Most Endangered Rivers® of 2022, highlighting the threats that habitat destruction and pollution, combined with climate impacts, pose to millions of people across the basin.
Nearly forty percent of land in the continental United States drains into the Mississippi River, which faces urban and agricultural runoff, habitat loss and intensifying storms. The climate crisis is compounding these threats — more frequent and severe floods carry excess sediment and pollution off the land and into the river.
"Iowa is one of the top nutrient exporters in the Mississippi River basin, leading to local water-pollution issues and fueling the Gulf Hypoxic Zone or 'dead zone'," says Alicia Vasto, IEC Water Program Associate Director with the Iowa Environmental Council.
American Rivers and its partners, including IEC, have called on Congress to pass legislation authorizing a new federal Mississippi River Restoration and Resilience Initiative (MRRRI) to coordinate and increase resources for restoration and resilience opportunities up and down the Mississippi River corridor. The bill was introduced by Representative Betty McCollum of Minnesota and original co-sponsors Representative Cori Bush (MO-01), Rep John Yarmuth (KY-03), Rep Steve Cohen (TN-09), and Rep Bennie Thompson (MS-02).
"Our state’s goal is to reduce our nitrogen and phosphorus pollution by 45% by 2035, but we’re not on course to do that. The MRRRI funding program could help get us on track by supporting local efforts to reduce agricultural pollution," said Alicia Vasto with the Iowa Environmental Council.
Just as the bill’s cosponsors represent the river’s extensive geography, so do the groups lining up to support it. “Organizations in each of the ten riverfront states are rallying behind this,” said Kelly McGinnis, the national Mississippi River Network (MRN) executive director.
“To address the multitude of inter-related environmental issues along the Mississippi River, we need a coordinated, holistic approach,” said Olivia Dorothy, American Rivers restoration director in East Moline, Illinois. “At the moment, the restoration and resilience programs on the Mississippi River are disjointed and poorly-coordinated.”
"Other iconic water bodies have federal programs that support comprehensive restoration efforts, but not the Mississippi River,” said Dorothy. “The Mississippi River is America’s most famous and culturally significant river, and it is degrading due to climate change, habitat loss, invasive species, and water pollution. This has real impacts on local economies, public safety, and quality of life.”
If passed, the MRRRI Act would authorize an estimated $300 million or more annually in funds to federal, state, tribal, and community agencies and organizations to improve water quality, restore habitat and natural systems, reduce aquatic invasive species, and build local resilience to natural disasters in and along the Mississippi River.
At least 25 percent of annual funding would be directed to projects in communities of color or low-income communities disproportionately impacted by ecological degradation, with an additional ten percent directed to communities that experience persistent poverty.
Proponents cannot yet point to specific projects that the new federal initiative will support. And this, they say, is a good thing. “People from throughout the ten river states and Tribal Nations will make these decisions together,” said McGinnis.
While the bill calls for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to helm the new headwaters-to-Gulf program, it is not a regulatory program. MRRRI requires the EPA to work closely with other federal agencies, state, and local decision makers, scientific advisors, communities, and the public to craft an action plan that guides investments according to publicly-expressed and research-backed priorities.
According to the National Park Service, the Mississippi supports 879 wildlife species, and roughly eighteen to twenty million Americans rely on it for drinking water. Green Lands Blue Waters researchers working throughout the Mississippi River Basin estimate that Delta wetlands, forests, coastal areas, and agricultural lands provide flood and hurricane protection, fishery and recreation services worth anywhere from $12 to $47 billion annually in the Delta area alone.
The annual America’s Most Endangered Rivers report is a list of rivers at a crossroads, where key decisions in the coming months will determine the rivers’ fates. Over the years, the report has helped spur many successes including the removal of outdated dams, the protection of rivers with Wild and Scenic designations, and the prevention of harmful development and pollution.
The Mississippi River has previously appeared in this report in 1992, 1994 through 1996, 2001, 2004, and 2011. Other rivers in the region listed as most endangered in recent years include the Upper Mississippi River (2019 and 2021), Lower Missouri River (2021), Big Sunflower River (2018 and 2020), Mississippi River Gorge (2018), and Buffalo National River (2017 and 2019).
About the MRRRI Collaborative
The Mississippi River Restoration and Resilience Initiative (MRRRI) Collaborative comprises local, regional, state, and national organizations committed to working together to create a federally-funded initiative focused on the Mississippi River. Currently, 90+ organizations including the Iowa Environmental Council publicly support MRRRI.