Mississippi basin gets D+ on first report card

By Daniel Enoch

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WASHINGTON, Oct. 14, 2015 -- The Mississippi River basin - “America's Watershed” -- gets a “D+” rating on a report card that included grades on water quality, infrastructure, the economy and recreation.

The report card is the first issued by America's Watershed Initiative, an effort organized by hundreds of businesses, associations, government agencies, science organizations, academic institutions and non-profit groups to ascertain the health of the 31-state Mississippi River Watershed and the 250 rivers that flow into it. Its steering committee includes representatives from the Nature Conservancy, DuPont Pioneer, the National Corn Growers Association (NCGA) and the Ingram Barge Co.

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“The Report Card for America's Watershed reveals many opportunities to improve our economy and secure our water supplies if we act together now,” the group said on its website. “Working together, we can find solutions for improving water quality and quantity, safety, and the health of America's Watershed.”

The category getting the worst grades in the report card was infrastructure, including the locks and dams that allow barges filled with corn, soybeans and wheat to move up and down the Mississippi and its many tributaries. The infrastructure's condition got a D while the maintenance category got an F.

While the watershed received a grade of C- related to the goal of maintaining an abundant supply of clean water, it received a D for the “dead zone” that forms regularly in the Gulf of Mexico, attributed to nitrogen runoff from farms, urban areas and wastewater. “For the last five years, the size of the hypoxic zone in the Gulf of Mexico has not decreased” toward targets set by a task force created to deal with the problem, the Initiative said.

Poor marks were also given to issues related to water supply, flood control and flood risk reduction.

Mississippi's watershed is the fourth-largest in the world and includes waters from the Missouri, Arkansas, Red, Ohio and Tennessee rivers. Besides providing drinking water for millions, the waters are used to produce more than $50 billion annually in agricultural products and nearly 25 percent of the nation's hydropower, the Initiative said.


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In a joint comment on the report card, Max Starbuck, NCGA's director of market development, and Suzy Friedman, with the Environmental Defense Fund, said that while the overall mark in the report card was “less than stellar,” the way to move from D+ to A is through “collaboration.”

Starbuck and Friedman pointed to the collaboration between their own groups as an example.

“Although our perspectives may differ, we share a commitment to the economic and environmental resilience and sustainability of U.S. corn production - we both want to optimize the use of nitrogen fertilizer, increase soil health to increase food production, and enhance the environment in the future -- and we can accomplish more together than on our own.”

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