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Mississippi River Basin Initiative (MRBI)

Through the Mississippi River Basin Healthy Watersheds Initiative (MRBI), the Natural Resources Conservation Service and our partners work with producers and landowners to implement voluntary conservation practices that improve water quality, restore wetlands, enhance wildlife habitat and sustain agricultural profitability in the Mississippi River Basin. 

Known as “America’s River,” the Mississippi River is North America’s largest river, flowing over 2,300 miles through America’s heartland to the Gulf of Mexico. It is the centerpiece of the 2nd largest watershed in the world. The watershed not only provides drinking water, food, industry, and recreation for millions of people, it also hosts a globally significant migratory flyway and home for over 325 bird species.

NRCS has identified the Mississippi River Basin as a top priority due to water quality concerns, primarily related to the effects of nutrient loading on the health of local water bodies and, eventually, the Gulf of Mexico.

The 13-state Initiative builds on the cooperative work of NRCS and its conservation partners in the basin, and offers agricultural producers in priority watersheds the opportunity for voluntary technical and financial assistance.

The participating States are Arkansas, Kentucky, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Louisiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Ohio, South Dakota, Tennessee and Wisconsin.

The Initiative will build on the past efforts of producers, NRCS, partners, and other State and Federal agencies in the 13-State Initiative area by addressing nutrient loading in priority small watersheds within the Mississippi River Basin.

How does MRBI Work?

Through MBRI, NRCS and its partners use a “conservation systems approach” to help producers avoid, control and trap nutrients and sediment to address water quality concerns. This is accomplished by optimizing nitrogen and phosphorus use efficiency in agricultural fields, minimizing nutrient and water runoff and improving soil health. 

MRBI uses key conservation practices, such as nutrient management, conservation crop rotation, cover crops, and residue and tillage management, to address critical water quality concerns of the region. These practices will reduce the impact of nutrient loading on the health of local water bodies and, eventually, the Gulf of Mexico. Producers also benefit a variety of wildlife species in the Mississippi River Basin by restoring and managing wetlands and upland habitats.

NRCS provides producers with technical and financial assistance through the Agricultural Conservation Easment Program (ACEP), using existing Farm Bill conservation programs. MRBI producers may also be eligible to receive financial and technical assistance to voluntarily install edge-of-field monitoring for water quality systems in selected watersheds. This monitoring will help NRCS assess environmental outcomes of this work.

MRBI will be implemented by NRCS through:

Ohio Project

Upper Ohio Brush Creek Watershed Water Quality Improvement Project will provide Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP) funds for producers in the focus area to complete conservation practices that improve overall soil health, reduce erosion, and curb nutrient leaching. 

The project focus area encompasses five 40 square mile sub-watersheds of the Upper Ohio Brush Creek Watershed which extend throughout northwestern Adams and adjoining areas of Brown and Highland Counties.  These sub-watersheds include: Little West Fork Ohio Brush Creek, Headwaters West Fork Ohio Brush Creek, Cherry Fork, Georges Creek-West Fork Ohio Brush Creek, and Little East Fork-Ohio Brush Creek.  This area of focus was selected due to the high density of livestock producers and crop fields, as well as its designation as “impaired” due to excessive sediment and nutrients. 

Cover crops and inter-seeding pastures are the two primary practices used to protect water quality and reduce soil erosion. Other available practices will include crop rotation with perennials, grass waterways, forage and biomass plantings, pipelines, watering facilities, subsurface drains, access roads, heavy use areas, stream crossings, spring development, nutrient management and prescribed grazing.

How does MRBI Benefit Producers?

Through MRBI, NRCS helps producers with voluntary conservation practices that conserve America’s natural resources in high-priority watersheds while ensuring economic viability of cropland and rangeland.  

Conservation practices installed by producers will serve to avoid, control and trap nutrient runoff, prevent erosion and provide essential wildlife habitat. These practices benefit the natural resources of the Mississippi Basin and enhance agricultural profitability through reduced input and enhanced soil health (higher soil organic matter, increased infiltration and water-holding capacity, nutrient cycling, etc.).

How does MRBI Benefit the Public?

More than 50 cities and 18 million people rely on the Mississippi River for their daily water supply. The Mississippi River is the main stem of a network of inland navigable waterways 12,350 miles in length.

NRCS is committed to working cooperatively with agricultural producers, partner organizations and state and local agencies to improve water quality and the quality of life for the tens of millions of people who live in and rely on the Mississippi River Basin. 

Partnership Opportunities

NRCS is building a foundation of partners from non-profit and private organizations, local, state, and federal governments and individuals across the Nation. Whether these partnerships augment funding sources, increase return on investment, or provide boots-on-the-ground support, NRCS and its partners are committed to helping people help the land.  

In addition to providing input for priority watershed selection criteria and the processes used to implement MRBI, partners will have a crucial role in encouraging and supporting producer participation. Partners’ involvement will be instrumental in a variety of ways, including:

  • Providing information and conducting education and outreach activities.
  • Forming agreements to provide staffing for technical assistance and education activities.
  • Joining the State Technical Committee to provide input for future focus areas and watershed selection.
  • Submitting proposals for CIG and ACEP or partnering with a group submitting a proposal.
  • Targeting their organization’s programs toward the Initiative’s watersheds.
  • Assisting with monitoring, evaluation, and assessment.

Ohio Program Contact

John Wilson
Assistant State Conservationist for Programs