First Ever Mississippi River Basin Report Card

Leaders representing organizations from more than 20 states gathered in St. Louis two days ago to announce the release of a first-ever Report Card for the entire Mississippi River basin, which stretches across all or part of 31 U.S. states and covers more than 41 percent of the continental United States.

The leaders were part of America’s Watershed Initiative, which has worked with more than 700 stakeholders and experts from over 400 business, government and science organizations to identify the key measurements and data sources to grade six goals for the watershed: clean, abundant water; marine transportation; flood control and risk reduction; the economy; recreation; and ecosystem health.

The report card also provides assessments for five major sub-basins—the Upper Mississippi River, Lower Mississippi River, the Ohio and Tennessee Rivers, the Arkansas and Red Rivers, and the Missouri River. Overall, the grade average for the six goals for entire watershed was a D+.

Positive results in some of the basins and for some goals across the entire watershed were offset by significant challenges. Specifically, the assessments for transportation, water supply, and flood control and risk reduction received some of the worst grades. Two of the three measurements for transportation—infrastructure condition and infrastructure maintenance—received the lowest grades of all goals measured.

Our aging water infrastructure desperately weakens America’s capability to reliably and efficiently move and export food and goods,” said Stephen Gambrell, Director of the Mississippi River Commission. “The water commerce network, which depends on our heartland rivers, moves millions of tons of goods safely, reliably and efficiently, generating billions in economic value for the United States. The longer we wait to invest in raising the grade of America’s Watershed, the more it will cost our children, our national security and the nation’s future opportunities.”

The report card also addressed watershed-wide challenges, such as the size of the hypoxic or “dead zone” in the Gulf of Mexico and the rate of coastal wetland loss in Louisiana, with both being rated as “poor.” A full discussion of the grades for the six goals and technical documentation with data sources and calculations is available here.

The Report Card represents the first time these six broad goals have been assessed and presented in a single document for the Mississippi River Watershed.