The Mississippi River is one of our most important natural assets, providing drinking water to over 20 million Americans. The river’s watershed encompasses 40 percent of the contiguous United States and spans 31 states. The diverse habitats along the river host a globally significant flyway supporting over 325 species of birds.
That’s just part of why Audubon is excited about legislation introduced this week in Congress to create the Mississippi River Restoration and Resilience Initiative (MRRRI). The bill will create a MRRRI National Program Office within the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and authorize $300 million in federal appropriations to implement the MRRRI program. It was introduced by Representative Betty McCollum (MN-04) and co-sponsored by Rep. Bennie Thompson (MS-02), Rep. Cori Bush (MO-01), Rep. Steve Cohen (TN-09), and Rep. John Yarmuth (KY-03).
The critical wetlands created by the Mississippi River and its tributaries are not only vital to birds, but to people, from the headwaters of Lake Itasca to St. Louis and New Orleans. The river is a national treasure and boasts tremendous ecological as well as economic importance for the nation.
Unfortunately, the river is in dire need of restoration and recovery for the birds, wildlife, people, and communities who depend on it. From the headwaters to the delta, the Mississippi River suffers from excess pollution, invasive species, wetlands loss and destruction, ongoing disruption to its natural hydrology, and extreme storm events exacerbated by climate change.
The new MRRRI program will establish a dedicated federal office focused on restoring the river, while working with Tribal nations, states, local communities, and other stakeholders. Funding established by the MRRRI bill will provide support to improve water quality, restore habitat and natural systems, reduce aquatic invasive species, and build local resilience to natural disasters in and along the Mississippi River. Natural infrastructure - solutions which provide multiple benefits such as enhancing habitats, reducing flood risks to communities, reducing stormwater runoff, and improving water quality - can be used to meet many of the MRRRI goals while also providing climate resilience benefits for communities throughout the watershed.
Audubon looks forward to supporting the MRRRI legislation and working with relevant stakeholders on implementing this important program. Our conservation programs are at work restoring critical habitat throughout the Mississippi River watershed and our coasts team is hard at work protecting and restoring areas in the delta. We join all of our MRRRI partners in celebrating the creation of this federal program to provide leadership, funding, and guidance to implement a “whole of the river” approach.