Report Details Conservation Effectiveness in Upper Mississippi River Basin

(July 10, 2019) - A new report by the Northeast-Midwest Institute assesses the implementation of a federally funded conservation program, with a particular concentration on its potential to improve water quality, focusing on a set of locations across the Upper Mississippi River Basin. This study will prove to be a valuable guide for forging a more robust conservation regime in the region and the rest of the United States.

The report analyzes the implementation of the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) in six watersheds in the Upper Mississippi River Basin.  A number of NACWA members are participating in these projects and NACWA has been a strong advocate for the RCPP, especially in the 2018 Farm Bill.  An assessment of these projects confirms the vital role of federal funding in initiating or strengthening these collaborations across various sectors from state and local governments to educational institutions, agri-businesses, and environmental organizations.

The RCPP projects evaluated in this report show statistically significant but low-impact reductions in contaminant pollution across the watersheds. RCPP projects, as currently implemented, generally reduce pollution from phosphorus, nitrogen, and sediment by approximately 3%-6% across the watershed. A 10- fold expansion of the current conservation adoption in the watersheds will result in a 17%- 27% reduction, while full implementation of conservation on all available farmland will bring a 55%-66% reduction in contaminant loading.

The report notes that while the Farm Bill has been an effective vehicle for undertaking critical conservation efforts – like the RCPP – by bringing together stakeholders with varying interests, the funding allocated for conservation is not enough to meet the scale and severity of the water quality challenge facing the Mississippi River Basin and the nation at large. Additional funding for source water protection in the 2018 Farm Bill was an important step toward enhancing conservation efforts, but this study identifies several policy issues that need to be addressed at the federal, state, and local levels to ensure productive lands and high quality.

The full report is available for download online.