Our Plan

Scientists from The Nature Conservancy have studied what’s happening in the headwaters area at length and have come back with some good news: it’s not too late to fix this! 

Map 1 Protection Areas
Map 2 Restoration Areas
Map 3 Ag Areas
Map 4 Stormwater Areas

Protect High-Priority Lands

Protecting land is an important strategy for safeguarding clean water in the Mississippi River’s headwaters area. The areas highlighted on this map are some of our most high-quality natural landscapes, in terms of both water quality and habitat for fish and wildlife. The largely natural landscapes in this area provide important services including water filtration, groundwater recharge and habitat for hundreds of native species.

Restore Lands That Offer the Most Protection Benefit

We can also achieve myriad benefits for Minnesota by restoring key lands in the headwaters area. These areas represent high-priority restoration areas that would provide benefits including drinking water filtration, carbon sequestration and better air quality, among others. In these areas, we’re aiming to increase capacity for partners and local agencies to do restoration at a scale that will have a meaningful impact on our water quality.

Improve Ag Practices in Key Areas

While forests and wetlands make up much of the headwaters region, so too do agricultural lands including corn, soybean and potato farms. In these areas, we’re recommending adoption of sustainable, water-friendly practices like cover crops, reduced tillage and the implementation of 4R and other soil health practices. This map shows where we can make the most impact for water by adopting some of these sustainable farming practices.

Improve Stormwater Management

This map shows priority watersheds for improved stormwater management. Because impervious surfaces like roads, sidewalks and parking lots do not provide the filtration benefits we get from natural lands, our strategy also needs to consider stormwater from urban and suburban areas. In these areas lies an opportunity to increase the capacity of conservation partners and local governments to better manage stormwater and urban runoff.

What Will It Take?

$500 Million in Public Investment

To match the pace and scale of threats to our water, we need to see a significant increase in conservation investments from the state of Minnesota. And we need it to happen while there’s still time, before more of our lakes and rivers become impaired.

10 Years If We Get Started Now

We still have time to fix this, but that time is rapidly running out. If we can get our lawmakers to act now, it will take about a decade to secure clean water for our future. The sooner we start, the greater impact we can make and the sooner we can start reaping the benefits.

Blue-green algae on Lake Crystal
Blue-green algae on Lake Crystal
Image Credit
© Minnesota Pollution Control Agency

We Can’t Afford Business As Usual

We have a choice in the Mississippi’s headwaters area: invest $500 million to prevent further degradation or spend billions to clean up our waters after they’ve become impaired. It will cost an estimated $2.7 billion to clean up the the Mississippi River if we allow it to go the way of the Minnesota River, which has been severely impacted by the same threats facing the Mississippi.  Restoring lakes throughout the Mississippi River’s headwaters area could cost an additional $4 billion.

It’s time for Minnesota to make a different choice.

A Small Investment with a Big Payoff

Targeted Protection and Restoration

Of the 13 million acres in the Mississippi River’s headwaters area, we’re recommending protection and restoration for less than two percent of them. Doing so would yield enormous benefits for water protection while having a minimal impact on agriculture and industry. We are targeting areas to protect and restore that will have the greatest impact for water quality, water quantity, fish and wildlife habitat and flood control.

$490 Million Worth of Benefits

Not only is this investment significantly smaller than delaying action and paying for it later, there is much to be gained by being proactive. Improvements to to public health, retained property values, carbon sequestration and avoided flood damages add up to $490-500 million in direct and indirect benefits. All in all, this is an investment that pays for itself and protects Minnesotans’ quality of life.

Minnesota State Capitol building
Minnesota State Capitol building
Image Credit
© Ken Wolter, Shutterstock

Legacy Funds Aren’t Enough

In 2008, Minnesota voters passed the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment with overwhelming support across party lines. This was meant to boost funding for clean water and fish and wildlife habitat. But since its passing, traditional sources of funding for conservation including bonding have been slashed.

The need for conservation across the state of Minnesota has only increased. Now is the time to sustain public investment in protecting our lands and waters, not hold back.

We need to encourage our lawmakers to act now and ensure the Mississippi is protected.