GOAL: Support and enhance healthy and productive ecosystems.
Conserve, enhance and restore ecosystems within the Mississippi River Watershed to support natural habitats and the fish and wildlife resources that depend upon them.
Photo: Byron Jorjorian
Photo: Byron Jorjorian
Photo: Jorge Ribas
Photo: Robert J Hurt
Photo: Mark Godfrey/TNC
Healthy and productive ecosystems provide abundant fish, wildlife and vegetation, which in turn offer services and products to society, including clean water, flood risk reduction, food, recreation jobs and income. Maintaining healthy ecosystems depends on natural processes that support natural habitats and abundant native fish and wildlife resources.
Entire Mississippi Watershed
The Watershed received a C grade for Ecosystems. The grades for Ecosystems varied more across the basins than for any other goal, with some basins showing very positive results while others face significant challenges. The industrialized eastern portion of the watershed and the Lower Mississippi River show the greatest threats to natural areas. Poor water quality is a result of high nutrient runoff from agriculture and industry and is a major cause of low oxygen in the waters of the northern Gulf of Mexico.
Upper Mississippi Basin
The Upper Mississippi Basin received a grade of C- for Ecosystems. The living resources indicator received a C-. The streamside habitat indicator received a B, one of only 2 basins with this highest grade. The water quality indicator in the Upper Mississippi received a D+. The wetland area change indicator received a D.
Ohio & Tennessee River Basin
The Ohio River Basin received a grade of C for Ecosystems. The living resources indicator received a D+ and the streamside habitat indicator received a C. The water quality indicator in the Ohio received a D+ while the wetland area change indicator received an A grade, one of only two basins with this highest grade.
Lower Mississippi Basin
The Lower Mississippi River Basin received a grade of C for Ecosystems. The living resources indicator received a D and the streamside habitat indicator received a B grade, one of 2 basins with this highest grade. The water quality indicator received a C and the wetland area change indicator received a C-.
Arkansas River & Red River Basin
The Arkansas River & Red River Basin received a grade of B for Ecosystems. The living resources indicator received a C. The streamside habitat indicator received a grade of C+ and the water quality indicator received a C- grade. The wetland area change indicator received an A Grade, one of only two basins with this highest grade.
Missouri River Basin
The Missouri River Basin received a grade of D for Ecosystems. The living resources indicator received a C while the streamside habitat indicator received a grade of C+. The water quality indicator received a C and the wetland area change indicator received an F grade, the lowest in the watershed.
What was measured and how it was evaluated
The Report Card measured four indicators to determine ecosystem health in rivers and streams throughout the watershed and the effectiveness of wetland restoration and protection. The first three indicators were evaluated using detailed results from surveys conducted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for their 2008-2009 National River and Stream Assessment for living resources, water quality and habitat.
- Water Quality assessed nutrient (nitrogen and phosphorus) levels in rivers and streams in the watershed. The Water Quality Index was calculated as the average of the total phosphorous and total nitrogen scores in each basin.
- Living Resources evaluated the condition of aquatic animal communities living in the ecosystem, and the Streamside Habitat indicator graded the condition of stream and river habitat in the ecosystem. The results for the water quality, living resources and streamside habitat indicators are based on the EPA values of ‘good’, ‘fair’ or ‘poor’ and were then weighted to account for the length of stream being sampled.
- Wetland Area Change indicator measured percentage change in wetland area in each state by basin using data from the National Land Cover Database collected by a consortium of 11 federal agencies. This data was calculated between 2006 and 2011, the two most recent data years in the database. These results were weighted to the proportion of the state that is included in each river basin.
The Report Card is primarily built with information from each of the five main basins in the Mississippi River Watershed. However, two important issues for the overall Mississippi Watershed that are included in the Report Card—the size of the hypoxic zone in the Gulf of Mexico and the coastal wetland loss at the Mississippi River’s delta — are reported at the watershed scale because the data is not measured or evaluated at the basin scale.
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.