Mississippi River The Mississippi River is arguably America's most iconic waterway and is steeped in the country's cultural, environmental, and geographical history

The River

The Mississippi River is a key economic driver in the Midwest and across the country, transporting over 500 million tons of shipped goods per year. 92% of the nation’s agricultural exports are produced by farmers in the Mississippi River basin, and the river furnishes drinking water to over 15 million Americans. The river also provides natural habitat for 25% of freshwater fish species in the United States, as well as serving as a major flyway for 40% of the country’s migratory bird species.

Nutrient pollution from agricultural runoff is a major threat to the health of the Mississippi River, causing algae blooms and hypoxia throughout the entire river system, with the worst effects being found in the Gulf of Mexico. Riverbank erosion has also led to millions of pound of sediment being washed downstream and deposited in Louisiana’s quickly vanishing wetlands.

States and cities have taken a variety of actions to mitigate threats to water quality and overall river health of the Mississippi River without hampering economic development. Many efforts such as nutrient trading schemes and buffer zone protection have both economic and ecological benefits through improving water quality and natural habitat that in turn provide river access and recreation opportunities for residents.

Mississippi River Legislative Caucus

NCEL has created the Mississippi River Legislative Caucus (MRLC) to assist legislators representing river districts and their colleagues committed to a thriving, healthy Mississippi River. The goal of the MRLC is to build the capacity of legislators in river districts to more effectively address river health and water quality issues, and to create a forum for collaboration on growing communities and local economies. The Caucus will include opportunities  for state lawmakers to interface with river mayors, members of Congress, advocacy groups, and the business community. 

Strategies and Reports

State of the River Report

This report by the Friends of the Mississippi River and US National Park Service includes 14 key indicators of water quality and ecological health in the river, including swimming and recreation, flow and hydrology, and river life.

Minnesota Nutrient Reduction Strategy

This strategy guides the state in reducing excess nutrients in waters so that in-state and downstream water quality goals are ultimately met.

Illinois Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy

This strategy guides state efforts to improve water quality at home and downstream by reducing nitrogen and phosphorus levels in our lakes, streams, and rivers.

Illinois Farm Bureau Water Quality Report

The annual water quality report from the Illinois Farm Bureau, which describes the achievements of current programs and details future plans to address water quality.


  • NCEL Fact Sheet with key points and links to legislation. 

  • This report zeros in on the Midwest and offers a first step toward defining the range of potential economic consequences to this particular region if we continue on our current greenhouse gas emissions pathway. Interactive graphics and detailed research is included by region. 

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  • The Collaborative is a collection of environmental organizations and legal centers from states bordering the Mississippi River. Their website offers links to groups working on specific issues, as well as detailed issue pages that provide an overview of issues such as nutrient pollution and dead zones. The full website can be viewed here

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