Mississippi River named among America's Most Endangered Rivers of 2022

posted on Tuesday, April 19, 2022 in Water and Land News

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

Washington, D.C. – American Rivers has named the Mississippi River one of America’s Most Endangered Rivers® of 2022, highlighting the threats that habitat destruction and pollution, combined with climate impacts, pose to millions of people across the basin.

Nearly 40 percent of land in the continental United States drains into the Mississippi River, which faces urban and agricultural runoff, habitat loss, and intensifying storms. The climate crisis is compounding these threats – more frequent and severe floods carry excess sediment and pollution off the land and into the river.

American Rivers and its partners called on Congress to pass legislation authorizing a new federal Mississippi River Restoration and Resilience Initiative (MRRRI) to coordinate and increase resources for restoration and resilience opportunities up and down the Mississippi River corridor. The bill was introduced by 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).

Just as the bill’s cosponsors represent the river’s extensive geography, so do the groups lining up to support it.    

“Organizations in each of the ten riverfront states are rallying behind this,” said Kelly McGinnis, the national Mississippi River Network (MRN) executive director. MRN is a lead organization in a collaborative effort, already 50 groups strong, backing the initiative.  

“To address the multitude of inter-related environmental issues along the Mississippi River, we need a coordinated, holistic approach,” said Olivia Dorothy, American Rivers restoration director in East Moline, Illinois. “At the moment, the restoration and resilience programs on the Mississippi River are disjointed and poorly coordinated.” 

"Other iconic water bodies have federal programs that support comprehensive restoration efforts, but not the Mississippi River,” said Dorothy. “The Mississippi River is America’s most famous and culturally significant river, and it is degrading due to climate change, habitat loss, invasive species and water pollution. This has real impacts on local economies, public safety and quality of life.”  

If passed, the MRRRI Act would authorize an estimated $300 million or more annually in funds to federal, 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 percent of annual funding would be directed to projects in communities of color or low-income communities disproportionately impacted by ecological degradation, with an additional 10 percent directed to communities that experience persistent poverty. 

Proponents cannot yet point to specific projects that the new federal initiative will support. And this, they say, is a good thing. “People from throughout the ten river states and Tribal Nations will make these decisions together,” said McGinnis. 

While the bill calls for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to helm the new headwaters-to-Gulf program, it is not a regulatory program. MRRRI requires 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.  

According to the National Park Service, the Mississippi supports 879 wildlife species, and roughly 18 to 20 million Americans rely on it for drinking water. Green Lands Blue Waters researchers working throughout the Mississippi River Basin 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.  

The annual America’s Most Endangered Rivers report is a list of rivers at a crossroads, where key decisions in the coming months will determine the rivers’ fates. Over the years, the report has helped spur many successes including the removal of outdated dams, the protection of rivers with Wild and Scenic designations, and the prevention of harmful development and pollution.

The Mississippi River has previously appeared in this report in 1992, 1994 through 1996, 2001, 2004 and 2011. Other rivers in the region listed as most endangered in recent years include the Upper Mississippi River (2019 and 2021), Lower Missouri River (2021), Big Sunflower River (2018 and 2020), Mississippi River Gorge (2018) and Buffalo National River (2017 and 2019).

See the 2022 list of America's Most Endangered Rivers.

You can take action now - contact your Iowa legislators to tell them you support MRRRI. 

  1. clean water
  2. conservation
  3. drinking water
  4. flooding
  5. nitrate pollution
  6. nutrient reduction strategy
  7. phosphorus pollution
  8. resiliency
  9. water quality
  10. water recreation