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A Calm Mississippi River in Morning Light in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Innovation, Inclusion Drive Efforts to Improve Water Health on America’s ‘River Highway’

October 21, 2021
The Walton Family Foundation is working to improve water health and help nature and people thrive in the Mississippi River Basin

The Mississippi River is America’s river highway – working hard 365 days a year to transport the bounties of the American heartland all over the world.

Its watershed is the fourth-largest in the world and accounts for more than 90% of all U.S. agricultural exports. Nearly 20 million people rely on the river for their drinking water.

But climate change and some agricultural practices are taking a heavy toll on the Mississippi and its water. Severe weather events are causing more intense flooding in communities along the river and throughout the basin. And for decades, the Mississippi and its tributaries have been plagued by excess nitrogen and phosphorus used to grow row crops like soybeans and corn running off farms and into the river.

The Walton Family Foundation’s five-year strategy aims to build on the collaboration of partners working locally, regionally and nationally to give the people and communities throughout the Mississippi River basin a voice in finding solutions to improve the health of the river and its water resources.

Nature provides a blueprint - to reconnect systems to manage water in a way that protects people and the environment in the face of a changing climate.

The efforts of the foundation and our partners are aimed at improving the sustainability of farming practices and managing for living with more water, so that we have a clean and resilient Mississippi River for people and nature.

We know that, in improving the health of the Basin, nature has the most experience and can be our greatest teacher. It provides a blueprint to reconnect systems, including the river’s natural infrastructure like floodplains and wetlands, to manage water in a way that protects people and the environment in the face of a changing climate.

Over the next five years, the foundation will continue to prioritize innovation in agriculture – supporting solutions, like third-crop rotations, the ‘next generation’ of cover crops and perennials, that reduce runoff and improve soil health. We’ll help pilot and scale practices like reforestation, conservation easements and restoration projects – and look for ways to incentivize sustainable, water-friendly agricultural practices and reduce risk for farmers and businesses that embrace innovation.

Because the Mississippi’s challenges extend from the river’s headwaters to mouth, we need strong coalitions - engaging a diverse and inclusive set of stakeholders – that take a ‘whole river’ approach to tackling its problems. Everyone needs to be at the table – from the farmer in Illinois to the community leader in Davenport to the fisher in coastal Louisiana – to build solutions that benefit all.

The following graphic provides an overview of the foundation’s theory of change for our work in the Mississippi River Basin:

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