Based on a review of ecosystems, water supply, transportation, economy, recreation, and flood control and risk reduction, America's Watershed Initiative this week gave the lower Mississippi River Basin a D+ rating.
The group specifically cited the poor condition of infrastructure such as locks and dams, and a lack of funding that could lead to water security issues as key reasons for the low rating.
The report said "critical components for locks and dams are in relatively poor condition across the Watershed, and a dangerous lack of funding for infrastructure maintenance means that multiple failures may be imminent. River transportation currently functions with some delays, but as these systems continue to deteriorate, significant failures could be expected which would result in severe, economic, public safety and water security problems."
Sustaining and increasing the basin's capacity through rehabilitation, repairs and innovation, it says, is "necessary in order to maintain a competitive economy."
The river basin received moderate marks for providing "robust nature based recreational activities," but the group said "much more needs to be done to support current and emerging recreational opportunities through effective management of natural resources that support recreation."
The Mississippi River watershed is the fourth-largest in the world, according to the group. It is made up of five river basins that flow across 31 states. It falls short in its goal of serving as the nation's most valuable water passage, according to the report, which notes that the watershed transports $54 billion of agricultural products annually.
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In the same report, the Upper Mississippi River Basin fared only slightly better than its lower half, with a C rating.
According to AWI, the upper basin had relatively few navigation lock shutdowns, a high percentage of communities that have building elevation requirements as a non-structural flood protection measure, good quality streamside habitat, relatively high hunting and fishing license sales, and relatively high water availability compared to the national average.
On the flip side, the condition and maintenance of the transportation infrastructure within the basin is poor, AWI said.
According to the group, other marks against the basin include that it has seen a substantial increase in population within floodplains relative to the population change in the basin, its water quality ranks poorly, and there is a high rate of wetlands loss.
See the full reports on five key basins on the America's Watershed Initiative website.