Mississippi River Basin Initiative

In November of 2009, Secretary Vilsack announced a commitment of $320 million over the next four years for a Mississippi River Basin Healthy Watershed Initiative (MRBI) to address water quality, wildlife habitat and natural resource conservation concerns in the Basin.   The Agency’s focus will bring badly needed resources to bear on the very serious water quality problems in the Basin.

The Mississippi River Basin drains an area of 1.2 million square miles in 31 states. The US Geological Survey estimates that 58% of the Mississippi River Basin consists of cropland devoted to the production of corn, soybeans, wheat, cattle, hogs and chickens. Seven million metric tons of nitrogen in the form of commercial fertilizers are applied annually in the Basin, much of it on lands with man-made subsurface drainage systems that provide a quick conduit for surface drainage to nearby streams. Excessive nitrogen and phosphorus from farm runoff has impaired water quality in the Mississippi River Basin and beyond.

Farm runoff is also the most significant contributor to the 1.57 million metric tons of nitrogen flowing into the Gulf of Mexico each year and the principal cause of the hypoxic zone that develops in the Gulf each spring and summer. The hypoxic zone is sometimes called the dead zone. Excess nutrients promote excessive plant growth and as that growth begins to decay, the process of decomposition consumes all available oxygen killing any organism unable to swim away. In 1999, 2001, 2002 and 2007 the dead zone grew to an area roughly the size of New Jersey.

MRBI assists farmers in 41 selected watersheds (map) in Arkansas, Kentucky, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Louisiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Ohio, South Dakota, Tennessee and Wisconsin. For a list of core and supporting practices approved for the Mississippi River Basin Initiative, click here.

Administered through the Natural Resources Conservation Service, funding is offered under the Cooperative Conservation Partnership Initiative (CCPI).  CCPI utilizes funding from three existing NRCS conservation programs — Conservation Stewardship Program, Environmental Quality Incentives Program, and Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program — in partnership with state and local governments, nongovernmental organizations, Indian Tribes, and institutions of higher education.  MRBI funding is also offered through the Wetlands Reserve Enhancement Program.

For more information, visit the NRCS website for a FY 2012 progress report on the program.

USDA Contact Information

Myron Taylor, 651-602-7931, myron.taylor@mn.usda.gov