Mississippi River Watershed Partnership - Reducing Runoff

Article Highlights:

  • Farmers and conservation groups are working together to reduce nutrient and sediment runoff into the Mississippi River Basin.
  • Best management practices were developed to monitor and reduce runoff.
  • Three projects resulted in reduced runoff, precision conservation practices and best practices for residential and commercial gardens.
  • Recipient of First Place 2013 Gulf Guardian Award by Gulf of Mexico Program

Mississippi River Watershed Partnership aimed to reduce nutrient runoff and sediment movement into the largest river system in the United States. Monsanto contributed financial support to agricultural and conservation groups—Delta Wildlife, The National Audubon Society and The Nature Conservancy—that worked with farmers and urban areas to help reduce runoff into the Mississippi River and the Gulf of Mexico.

The Nature Conservancy and Delta Wildlife worked collaboratively with farmers to remove nutrients and sediment from agricultural runoff in the Mississippi River Basin. The National Audubon Society worked with homeowners and others to implement measures that can improve wildlife habitat and the quality of water entering the Mississippi River.

The Mississippi River Basin Initiative infographic

What’s at stake?

The most publicized problem associated with the Mississippi River watershed is nutrient and sediment runoff. This initiative aimed to provide solutions to how farmers can work with conservation groups to reduce the runoff.

When farmers and homeowners apply fertilizer to farms and yards, the plants, grass and flowers do not use all of the fertilizer and its components, and some of it runs off after rainfall. That nutrient runoff makes its way through the Mississippi River and its tributaries and eventually into the Gulf of Mexico. The fertilizer runoff contributes to a low-oxygen environment in the Gulf. This area has been referred to as a “Dead Zone” where marine life cannot survive. The Dead Zone varies in size every year because runoff levels vary every year.

Delta Wildlife Pipe Program Reduces Runoff, Improves Habitat

In the Mississippi Delta, located along the river in the northwest and western part of the state of Mississippi, Delta Wildlife worked with farmers to implement successful conservation practices that reduced runoff. Farmers in the Delta have installed more than 1,000 pipe-drainage systems that enable water running off from fields to be collected at the side of the field. This drainage system has reduced the amount of fertilizer and sediment exiting the field, improving water quality and reducing erosion. The benefits of drainage water management can be expansive—higher crop yields, consistent production, efficient use of irrigation water resources, reduced erosion, improved water quality because of less phosphorous and nitrogen movement to surface waters, improved habitat for waterfowl and increased aquatic biodiversity.


The Nature Conservancy Implements Precision Conservation Practices

Through this program, The Nature Conservancy worked with local partners and agricultural producers in the Root River in Minnesota, the Pecatonica River in Wisconsin, the Boone River in Iowa and the Mackinaw River in Illinois to implement precision conservation measures and practices in agricultural landscapes that addresses nutrient and sediment runoff. Examples of precision conservation include the use of cover crops, strip tillage, bioreactors, no-till farming and installing grass waterways.

The results were encouraging. For example, in the Root River watershed, short-term results show that the new conservation practices can reduce the amount of nitrates entering the watershed by 53,520 pounds per year. In the Boone River watershed, the results show a reduction of approximately 76,000 pounds per year.


The National Audubon Society “Common Water, Common Ground” Rain Garden Project

Addressing residential storm water runoff and identifying nutrient management practices for urban settings is an important part of the long-term solution for the health of the Mississippi River. The purpose of the National Audubon Society project was to design and install nine rain garden demonstration sites in six states across the Mississippi River Basin that highlight best practices for residential and commercial landscape markets. Each of the demonstration sites carefully selected native plants and features that showcased the rain gardens for their beauty and their ability to thrive in the unique soil and environmental conditions of their region. Beyond the environmental impact of reduced storm water and improved habitat, the rain garden demonstration sites have provided opportunities for education, community partnerships, recreation and enjoyment. The sites average more than 1 million total visitors per year.

Gulf Of Mexico Program recognizes Monsanto with a First Place 2013 Gulf Guardian Award

Monsanto was recognized by the Gulf of Mexico program as the First Place 2013 Gulf Guardian Award recipient in the Business/Industry Category for the Mississippi River Watershed Partnership. This prestigious award is given to businesses, community groups, individuals and agencies that are taking positive steps to help keep the Gulf healthy, beautiful and productive.


Protecting the Mississippi River is imperative to the future of its ecosystems and to the use of the river. By working with farmers and conservationists, Monsanto contributed funding for important conservation projects.