The Mississippi River got a D+.
America's Watershed Initiative released its first-ever report card on the river, which looks at the challenges the 31-state Mississippi Watershed faces in hopes of spurring action to improve the region for the future.
The report assessed six categories within the watershed: flood control and risk reduction, ecosystem health, transportation, water supply, economy, and recreation. The biggest concern was transportation, which got a D-.
The infrastructure (which is locks and dams) is in poor condition and there's a "dangerous lack of funding" for maintenance, the report found.
Currently, river transportation is functioning with some delays, but if deterioration continues there could be significant failures, possibly resulting in severe impacts on the economy, public safety and water security, the report notes.
A look at how the watershed ranked in each category:
A look at the Upper Mississippi
America's Watershed Initiative also looked at specific areas of the watershed including the Upper Mississippi Basin, which stretches from Minnesota south through Illinois (see map at left).
The basin fared slightly better than the watershed as a whole, receiving a C average grade across the six categories assessed, with transportation also being of the biggest concern for the region.
Water quality in the basin also ranks poorly and there is a high rate of wetlands lost, with the report noting intense agriculture use and large population centers in Minneapolis and Chicago could be contributing factors.
However, the area does have "relatively low" water stress compared to other areas due to its location on the "wet side" of the 100th meridian – that area gets more rain than elsewhere.
The area has few navigation lock shutdowns – it got an A grade for that, the highest in the watershed. There's also "good quality" streamside habitat, plus relatively high hunting and fishing license sales and water availability, compared to the national average. These all helped boost the basin's overall grade.
What is the Watershed Initiative?
America's Watershed Initiative includes representatives from businesses, nonprofits and the public sector who have expertise in river and conservation issues.
The group says pressures on the region will likely increase in the coming years as demands for water increase, infrastructure continues to decline, and climate changes. The hope is this report will help develop a road map for actions to improve the watershed as a whole, as well as track the progress made at improving the region's grades.
Read more about the report and the methods behind the river's grade here.