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Mississippi River Basin Healthy Watersheds Initiative

Mississippi River Basin Healthy Watersheds Initiative

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 second 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.

This vital river’s elevated levels of nutrients and sediment can impact the quality of life for the tens of millions of people who live in and rely on the Mississippi River Basin. Elevated nutrient levels are also contributing to the Gulf of Mexico hypoxic (low-oxygen) zone. To address these water quality concerns and agricultural sources of nutrients and sediment, NRCS works with farmers and conservation partners to implement conservation practices that help trap sediment and reduce nutrient runoff to improve the overall health of the Mississippi River.

What's New



Success Story:Webpage header
Recipe for Success: Improving Water Quality

Voluntary conservation efforts focused in small watersheds can yield big results for locally important waters. See how NRCS, landowners, and partners are working together to improve water quality in Illinois.


Success Story:
Stepping Up for a Cleaner Mississippi RiverStepping Up for a Cleaner Mississippi River Header

Meet Iowa's 2015 Soil Conservation Farmer of the Year Award recipient, Tim Smith, one of the many conservation farmers participating in a USDA program designed to reduce nutrient and sediment loading in the Mississippi River Basin.

How it works


FY22 MRBI Map. Click to downloadLaunched in 2009, the 12-state Mississippi River Basin Healthy Watersheds Initiative (MRBI) uses several Farm Bill programs, including the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP), to help landowners sustain America’s natural resources through voluntary conservation. The overall goals of MRBI are to improve water quality, restore wetlands and enhance wildlife habitat while ensuring economic viability of agricultural lands.

States within the Mississippi River Basin have developed nutrient reduction strategies to minimize the contributions of nitrogen and phosphorus to surface waters within the basin, and ultimately to the Gulf of Mexico. MRBI uses a small watershed approach to support the states’ reduction strategies. Avoiding, controlling and trapping practices are implemented to reduce the amount of nutrients flowing from agricultural land into waterways and to improve the resiliency of working lands.


List of Current Watershed Projects


Initiative Result



To date, segments of the Cache River and St. Francis River in Arkansas, and Flowers Creek in Indiana, have been scheduled for de-listing from the state impaired waters lists due to improved water quality conditions.

MRBI has shown that focused water quality efforts in high priority areas can be effective in building strong partnerships, increasing trust and collaboration with landowners and farmers, and getting more conservation systems on the ground. In fact, the initiative has helped increase the adoption of critical water quality conservation practices, such as cover crops, no-till, residue management, grassed waterways and nutrient management by over 30 percent (based on practice obligations) compared to focus area watersheds with general EQIP alone.

FY21 MRBI Scorecard page one thumbnail FY21 MRBI Scorecard page two thumbnail

Contact: John Bullough, Conservation Initiatives Coordinator: Water Quality