Investing in one of our nation’s great waterways

Clean Wisconsin joins coalition to protect Mississippi River

Many of our country’s most well-known waterways have their fair share of water quality challenges, and over the years, the federal government has created programs to provide financial and technical resources to help restore and protect these important economic, recreational, and cultural resources. Clean Wisconsin has worked with the Healing our Waters (HOW) Coalition for years to advocate for funding for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI), which has sent hundreds of millions of dollars to projects and programs that are helping to protect our Great Lakes. 

To date, the Mississippi River, one of America’s iconic waterways, has received no such investment, but hopefully that will soon change.  Clean Wisconsin recently joined the Mississippi River Restoration and Resilience Initiative (MRRRI), a coalition of national, regional, and state groups seeking to create a program like the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative for the Mississippi River Basin. 

The natural resource and recreation-based economy the Mississippi River supports generates nearly $500 billion in annual revenue, and the River supplies drinking water to more than 20 million people in 50 cities. More than 780 species of fish and wildlife call the Mississippi River Basin home, and it is a migration corridor for 60 percent of all North American birds.

Polluted runoff has harmed water quality throughout the Basin. The nitrate pollution from Wisconsin’s agricultural industry, which has caused significant in state groundwater pollution problems, also flows south and has contributed to the massive dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico. Invasive aquatic species such as Asian Carp threaten the ecological integrity of the River and the fisheries and recreation economy that rely on a healthy ecosystem. And while we all feel the impacts of a degraded and damaged Mississippi River, disproportionate harm has fallen on many communities of color, rural communities, and economically disadvantaged communities along the River.

The revitalization envisioned by the MRRRI will be made possible by a focused federal effort, led by the EPA, to understand the challenges the communities and natural resources throughout the Basin face and the requisite investments to meet them. The MRRRI would support projects that restore fish and wildlife habitat, improve water quality throughout the basin, from the private and community wells in rural Wisconsin to the water flowing into the Gulf, by reducing agricultural and urban runoff and restoring important wetlands, and work to reduce the spread of aquatic invasive species. And it would do so while being mindful of the historic disproportionate nature of the consequences of the Basin’s ecological degradation and working to correct it by investing in the underserved and disadvantaged communities along the River.

Another exciting element of the MRRRI effort is how well it can complement and bolster the state policy work Clean Wisconsin focuses on day in and day out to reduce agricultural and urban stormwater runoff and address climate change. The financial resources the MRRRI will bring to Wisconsin can help farmers implement conservation practices throughout the Driftless area to reduce runoff and clean up drinking water and will support cities large and small in their efforts to reduce stormwater runoff and flooding impacts.  Stay tuned for more information on how you can support this important conservation effort.  We expect federal legislation to be introduced soon, and with a new Administration in charge in Washington, the opportunity for an historic investment in the Mississippi River is real.