Healthy Mississippi River Briefings


Mississippi River

NCEL Point of Contact

Chris Askew-Merwin
Sustainable Agriculture and Water Specialist



During the month of June, legislators from five Mississippi River states attended a series of briefings and virtual roundtable discussions to address the health and resilience of the Mississippi River region. These briefings provided details on flooding, Americas Most Endangered Rivers report, and healthy soils. There were also facilitated conversations on strategies for states to address these pressing issues facing the health of the Mississippi River.

Read more about each event below.

Flood Resilience Series

On June 10, legislators from five Mississippi River states attended the Mississippi River Legislative Caucus’ (MRLC) June briefing on flood resilience. MRLC invited experts from the Pew Charitable Trusts’ Flood-Prepared Communities Team presented on their recent “Mitigation Matters” Report, which highlights the various ways states and towns across the country are creating flood resilience in their communities.

The Mississippi River Region experiences annual flooding, with some of the most severe and long-lasting flooding occurring over the past two years. State governments can help better prepare communities for the increased threat of flooding.

Here are some key takeaways from the MRLC flood resilience briefing: 

  • Working groups and centralized disaster resilience offices help facilitate collaboration between agencies and stakeholders and identify opportunities using existing resources. Example: Washington’s Disaster Resilience Working Group.  
  • Nature-based mitigation solutions are often more effective at reducing risk and are less costly than man-made solutions like bulkheads. Example: Maryland’s Living Shorelines Program.
  • State-based resilience efforts are key, as post-disaster spending is ballooning at the federal level and FEMA is currently unable to meet the needs of states. At the same time, FEMA is in the process of establishing its BRIC program to eventually have more resources for disaster resilience.

America’s Most Endangered Rivers Series

On June 17, legislators attended the Mississippi River Legislative Caucus’ (MRLC) June Briefing Series focusing on the recent American Rivers’ annual Most Endangered Rivers Report. Presenters from American Rivers and the Mississippi River Network (MRN) covered the report’s findings and ways that state policies can address environmental health and resilience challenges along the Mississippi River. 

The American Rivers Most Endangered Rivers report found that the Upper Mississippi River ranks number one on the list, followed by the Lower Missouri River and Big Sunflower River – all of which are in the Mississippi River region. 

Here are some key takeaways from the briefing:

  • Following the theme of the report, the top three most endangered rivers (Big Sunflower River, Lower Missouri River, and Upper Mississippi River) are all threatened by climate change and are at a key turning point. Decisions made within the next year could have a significant impact.
  • Legislation that emphasizes non-structural flood risk reduction is strongly overlooked, but natural solutions are some of the most important ways to reduce flood risk.
  • Integrating agencies and programs and taking into account social justice in floodplain issues are critical. 

Soil Health Series

On June 24, legislators attended the Mississippi River Legislative Caucus’ (MRLC) June Briefing Series on healthy soils. This briefing started a conversation about environmental health issues in the Mississippi River region surrounding topics like water retention, flood mitigation, and nutrient pollution. 

The briefing underscored the countless ecosystem services provided by healthy soils and highlighted successes from states who have successfully implemented soil health and protection policy. It also outlined opportunities that Mississippi River states can take to protect their soil.

Here are some key takeaways:

  • State soil health policy is an important tool to help make agriculture more resilient and profitable and help drive education and conversation around nutrient reduction.
  • Individual practices like cover crops and no-till farming are important focuses, but ultimately policies need to promote soil and watershed health as a whole; the steps to get there can come afterwards. 
  • Education through legislation – such as defining soil health through SWCDs, creation of state healthy soil action plans, and healthy soil pilot programs – are all viable policy options that help leverage and expand on practices already being done to protect soil health.
  • Soil health and watershed conservation policies are largely bipartisan issues, as they are known to improve yields and farmers’ bottom lines.