posted on Monday, June 28, 2021 in Water and Land News

IEC joins coalition calling for a new federal Mississippi River initiative

From headwaters to the gulf, groups say it’s time to restore the river and support resilient river communities


  • MRRRI Collaborative communications support: sue rich, Friends of the Mississippi River, 612-961-6717
  • Rep. Betty McCollum communications support: Amanda Yanchury, 202-597-1228 
  • Primary interviewee / representative for MRRRI-supporting organizations: Kelly McGinnis, Executive Director, Mississippi River Network, 708-305-3524,
  • Alicia Vasto, IEC Water Program Associate Director, 515-244-1194 x206,

June 28, 2021 -- Des Moines, IA -- The Great Lakes, Everglades, Chesapeake Bay and Puget Mississippi RiverSound. What do these national treasures have that the Mississippi River does not? A dedicated federal restoration program. But with the introduction of a new bill, Representative Betty McCollum of Minnesota and original co-sponsors Rep. Cori Bush (MO-01), Rep. John Yarmuth (KY-03), Rep. Steve Cohen (TN-09), and Rep. Bennie Thompson (MS-02) aim to change that. 

Their bill would authorize a new federal Mississippi River Restoration and Resilience Initiative (MRRRI) to coordinate restoration and resilience opportunities up and down the Mississippi River corridor.

Just as the bill’s cosponsors represent the river’s reach, so do the groups lining up to support it. “Organizations in each of the 10 riverfront states are rallying behind this,” said Kelly McGinnis, executive director of the national Mississippi River Network. MRN is a lead organization in a collaborative effort, so far 50 groups strong, to back the initiative.  

In the headwaters state of Minnesota, Friends of the Mississippi River Executive Director Whitney Clark said that while there are several programs and initiatives that have made great strides for the river’s health “We need a coordinated, holistic approach — one that respects and supports local solutions, as MRRRI does — to truly address the Mississippi River’s complex problems. Rivers don’t respect political boundaries.” 

Nearly 40% of land in the continental United States drains into the Mississippi River, which faces urban and agricultural runoff, habitat loss and intensifying storms and flooding events. Pollution culminates in the northern Gulf of Mexico, where stretches of the river are increasingly transformed into summer “dead zones” of water that have too little oxygen (hypoxic) for fish and other river life to breathe. 

Corn on dry ground“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.’ 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, IEC Water Program Associate Director.

"The Mississippi River has long been neglected, when compared to other vital waters throughout the country,” said Matt Rota, senior policy director for Healthy Gulf in New Orleans. “The river needs a comprehensive restoration program, and this initiative would be an incredible resource for the communities and wildlife that depend on the river."  

Bald EagleThe Mississippi supports 879 wildlife species and roughly 18-20 million Americans rely on the River for drinking water, according to the National Park Service.

According to Green Lands Blue Waters, which works throughout the Mississippi River basin, researchers 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.  

If passed, the MRRRI Act would authorize an estimated $300-$350 million annually in federal grants to 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% would be directed to river projects in low-income or communities of color that bear a disproportionate impact of river pollution or degradation, with an additional 10% directed to communities that experience persistent poverty. 

All funded projects will need to take place in a riverfront state or tribal nation in an area that drains to the Mississippi River (typically all if not most of the land in a mainstem state). Proponents can't yet point to specific projects that the new federal initiative will support. And this, they say, is a good thing.

“We — people from throughout the 10 river states and tribal nations — will make these decisions together,” said McGinnis. 

Mississippi River at MarquetteWhile the bill calls for the Environmental Protection Agency to helm the new headwaters-to-Gulf river program, it directs 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. Supporters are optimistic that by funding community-driven projects and the jobs that come with them, rather than creating new regulations or policies, both sides of the political aisle will embrace the bill. 

“The Mississippi River is one of the most important waterways in the United States and the world, but it is in dire need of restoration. Representative McCollum’s bill provides the tools, investments, and focus needed to ensure that river communities and wildlife can thrive,” said Collin O’Mara, president and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation. “The Mississippi River is inextricably woven into our history as a nation and our way of life today. Representative McCollum’s bill is a visionary proposal that will drive comprehensive restoration efforts and equitable outcomes for river communities, and one we cannot wait to see become law.”


About the MRRRI Collaborative
The Mississippi River Restoration & Resilience Initiative (MRRRI) Collaborative is composed of local, regional, state, and national organizations committed to working together to create a federally funded initiative focused on the Mississippi River. Currently, 50 organizations publicly support MRRRI

  1. clean water
  2. drinking water
  3. environmental justice
  4. nitrate pollution
  5. phosphorus pollution
  6. water quality