America's Watershed Report Card
Our heartland rivers make up America’s Watershed—a vital river system that provides drinking water, recreation, habitat, and serves as an economic engine for America. Hundreds of business, government, and science organizations graded the state of America’s Watershed and identified critical areas for improvement. The Report Card for America’s Watershed reveals many opportunities to improve our economy and secure our water supplies if we act together now. Working together, we can find solutions for improving water quality and quantity, safety, and the health of America’s Watershed. (See our “Actions to Raise the Grade.”)
Grades at a Glance
Click on the ‘paddlewheel’ below to explore grades for each of the six Report Card Goals.
Explore Report Card by Basin
Click on the map below to explore grades for each of the five Sub-Basins.
The Report Card
The Report Card measured six broad goals for America’s Watershed—Ecosystems, Flood Control & Risk Reduction, Transportation, Water Supply, Economy, and Recreation. The Report Card measures how well we are currently meeting each one of these goals, using real data and relevant information that was identified by experts in these fields. Over time, as we adapt our management strategies for the Mississippi River Watershed, the Report Card can track progress in achieving objectives. Report Card results will help develop a roadmap for collaborative actions to improve the 31-state Mississippi River Watershed and encourage people and organizations to engage in issues that affect it. (See our “Actions to Raise the Grade.”)
The Report Card reveals challenges ahead
The Report Card shows challenges in managing the watershed for the six broad goals of America’s Watershed Initiative. Pressures on these goals will likely increase in coming decades, as demands for water increase, infrastructure ages and our climate changes.
The region faces interconnected challenges
Regional changes from economic growth, land development and changes in weather will add pressure to already stressed infrastructure and natural resources. Clean water for habitat, water supplies and recreation impacted by pollution will continue to be under pressure due to increased demands on the watershed from population growth, agriculture, transportation and land development. Groundwater supplies already in decline by overuse will be further affected by increases in irrigation and more severe droughts. Locks and dams already in weakened condition from maintenance funding shortfalls will be stressed further by more intense weather events, suggesting that failures could be more frequent and costly.
Connected goals require coordinated management
The six goals identified by America’s Watershed Initiative are as highly interconnected as the challenges facing the watershed. Decisions affecting one goal will impact the others, but we don’t need to advance one goal at the expense of others. Management of the Mississippi River Watershed to meet its challenges requires a mindset of opportunity and a coordinated approach that integrates multiple stakeholder needs, instead of an approach that advocates for single objectives independently. The Mississippi River Watershed is a world-class asset to our nation, and we need to significantly improve information and management systems to make more informed and efficient decisions to improve its condition.
America’s Watershed can do better
The Mississippi River is the backbone of America. Our economy and the future of our country depend on sustaining a healthy, functioning watershed. We measured conditions relative to six goals in five basins as well as the watershed as a whole. The results reveal a number of challenges—conditions in three of the basins are below expectations, and in the two remaining basins conditions are just ok. Overall, we give the watershed a grade of D+. (See our “Actions to Raise the Grade.”)
Improvements are clearly needed in several areas, including transportation infrastructure and maintenance. As a result of continued nutrient export from agricultural and industrial areas within the watershed, processes inside the watershed are also affecting conditions external to it: the low oxygen water area in the northern Gulf of Mexico is not improving towards the Hypoxia Task Force Targets.
Scores for the basins are generally measured against what is achievable for that basin. The results show some bright spots; Recreation in the Lower Mississippi Basin scored relatively high, as did Ecosystems in the Arkansas and Red River Basins. Overall, however, the basins show only moderate results in most areas, and poor to very poor results in some.
Of particular note are the results for Transportation. Results were either poor or very poor in each basin as a result of poor infrastructure condition and poor funding for infrastructure maintenance. As noted in the transportation goal discussion, delays at locks and dams currently are moderate but are at serious risk of catastrophic failure, as already poor condition infrastructure receives inadequate maintenance funding.
The AWI Report Card was developed over two years with significant amount of information and feedback from hundreds of experts and stakeholders throughout the watershed and nation. View a comprehensive Report Card technical paper that includes data sources, calculations and analysis. Download a high-resolution (21MB .pdf) of the Report Card that is suitable for quality printing.
America’s Watershed Initiative is made up of a variety of businesses, organizations, basin associations and government leaders working together who all care about the Mississippi River watershed. AWI began as an informal collaboration in 2009, operating within The Nature Conservancy for administrative purposes. In 2018 we formed a separate nonprofit corporation and have applied to the IRS for 501(c)(3) status. We believe an independent AWI will be better able to raise the resources required to update the 2015 Mississippi River Report Card and hold various meetings and seminars. Many organizations involved with AWI make financial contributions and grants to support its operations, and we actively seek additional contributions from others to achieve our mission. Contributions to support our work can be sent to AWI at 117 N Kirkwood RD, St. Louis, MO 63122. Please make checks payable to America’s Watershed Initiative. Thank you.