WI DNR Photo - Turbidity from the Root River

River Issues

Did you know?


   There are 286 state listed or candidate species and 36 federal listed or cadidate species of rare, threatened, or endangered plants and animals endemic to the Upper Mississippi River Basin.



      The UMRCC accomplishes its work primarily through voluntary efforts of many river resource managers and a very modest budget supported by annual dues of the five member states. During its early existence, the Committee recognized the need to have a permanent employee manage the day-to-day affairs of the Committee. As a result, the US Fish and Wildlife Service agreed to fund the appointment of a permanent UMRCC Coordinator in 1958 and continues to fund a Coordinator and support staff. In the late 1960's, the Committee realized that the organization must have a constitution to guide the Committee, so a Constitution was approved in 1975.

      Current UMRCC activities are governed by an Executive Board which consists of one voting representative from each of the five UMR states: Wisconsin, Minnesota, Illinois, Iowa, and Missouri. Chairmanship of the Executive Board rotates from year to year. Also on the Board are nonvoting members consisting of five Technical Committee Chairmen (Fisheries, Wildlife, OREIT, Water Quality, and Law Enforcement) two Committees (Mussel and Vegetation), an observer from the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge, and the UMRCC Coordinator.
      The Executive Board meets biannually to prioritize UMRCC conservation-oriented activities and issues which are carried out by the Coordinator and the Technical Sections. In addition to the state conservation agencies and the Fish and Wildlife Service, several other organizations participate as cooperators. Professionals from the three US Army Corps of Engineers districts (St. Paul, Minnesota, Rock Island, Illinois, and St. Louis, Missouri) are represented on the Technical Sections and provide support to many UMRCC activities. Government agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Geological Survey, U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Department of Agriculture, and state natural resource departments are key contributors to the UMRCC. Other organizations such as the Upper Mississippi River Basin Association, The Izaac Walton League of America, and the Environmental Protection Agency also participate in UMRCC functions.

      The primary activity of the founding Committee was to conduct fishery investigations on the river. Considerable time was also devoted to developing uniform fishing regulations and standard definitions for various commercial fishing gear. Creating a standardized form for commercial fishermen to report their harvest proved to be a formidable task. Convincing fishermen to complete it accurately and return it was a major public relations challenge. Over the years, the UMRCC has focused on coordinating research activities among the state and federal natural research agencies rather than performing its own investigations. The UMRCC has assumed a leadership role on the UMR in fostering communication between the multiple state and federal agencies who manage the river's resources. UMR managers have held annual meetings since 1943 to discuss Mississippi River issues, ongoing research, and UMRCC projects. The proceedings of these meetings have been published annually by the UMRCC. In addition to annual and fall meetings of the Technical Sections, the UMRCC disseminates information to its members and the public through a variety of mechanisms including:

- Publishing technical reports on fisheries, wildlife, recreation, and water quality.

- Publishing a quarterly newsletter to keep UMRCC members informed about the latest events and issues on the river.

- Publishing an annual summary of current UMR scientific investigations.

- Conducting/sponsoring special workshops and symposia.

- Maintaining a technical library and computerized database of over 4,000 documents relating to the Upper Mississippi River.

- Promoting an understanding and appreciation of UMR natural resources through presentations to public and private organizations that have an interest in the river.




















































































































































































Photo by Owen Johnson


Keokuk - Lock and Dam #19 - USFWS Photo

USFWS Photos 

Mississippi River Dredge - USFWS Photo

  Although the river is much "cleaner" than it was in recent decades, water quality is still a priority concern of the UMRCC. Non-point pollution such as agricultural runoff, toxins from municipal, agricultural and industrial sources, and contaminated sediments continue to threaten UMR aquatic resources. Ammonia from municipal and industrial sources is of particular concern because it is very toxic to aquatic life and is suspected of contributing to declines in fingernail clams and aquatic vegetation such as wild celery.

      Existing state water quality standards are insufficient to halt the negative impacts to water quality. Each state has its own standards which complicate efforts to develop a set of uniform standards for the river. In addition to supporting water quality efforts in the Environmental Management Program, UMRCC water quality biologists are also working on developing a database for pesticide monitoring on the river and supporting the Upper Mississippi River Basin Association in its "Water Quality Initiative.

WI DNR Photo

According to NASA the Mississippi River carries roughly 550 million metric tonnes (500 million tons) of sediment into the Gulf of Mexico each year.


      Less than 10 years after the completion of the UMR lock and dam system, UMRCC biologists were concerned with the eventual fate of the navigation pools. All lakes are doomed to a slow death by sedimentation, and the navigation pools are no exception. Unless current sedimentation rates in UMR backwaters are reduced, many wetland and aquatic habitats will be converted to less-desirable upland habitat types in the next few decades.

      Early UMRCC biologists were concerned about the eventual effects of sedimentation on backwater environments, but were unable to do anything to prevent it. UMRCC state and federal biologists are now addressing sedimentation on several fronts. One of these is through the Environmental Management Program (EMP). The EMP is a cooperative effort between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Army Corps of Engineers, and the five UMR states. One of its objectives is to collect sedimentation data and to investigate management alternatives for restoring backwaters impacted by sedimentation.

      Solving this problem will be an extraordinary task because it will involve taking actions throughout the 100+ million acres of the UMR watershed. Reducing sediment input will require remedial actions from the river's mainstem (reducing stream bank erosion) to the heads of tributaries (farm land or "sheet" erosion) hundreds of miles upstream.

UMR resources have been subjected to numerous abuses attributed to commercial navigation and related activities. Dredging, dams, regulatory structures, water level manipulation, tow impacts, associated developments such as barge fleeting and barge spills have all degraded fish and wildlife resources to some degree. In spite of these impacts, the UMR is still a productive aquatic ecosystem. However, UMRCC biologists are concerned that the UMR ecosystem may soon approach a breakpoint in terms of its resiliency to overcome these impacts.

      The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACOE) is currently investigating a major expansion of the navigation system which is likely to have significant impacts on UMR fish and wildlife resources. UMRCC biologists will play a major role in assuring that the needs of UMR fish and wildlife resources are adequately considered. In addition, the USACOE is currently evaluating injuries to fish caused by barge props. This research could help reduce impacts on fish populations.

The richness of the river's resources attracts millions of recreational users annually. A study conducted on the Upper Mississippi Fish and Wildlife Refuge showed that this popular river refuge received more visits than Yellowstone National Park. A 1992 Environmental Management Program recreation study documented that approximately 12 million user days (one user day equals one person visiting the river for one day) occurred in 76 counties along the UMR. Recreationists spend about $400 million annually and support 7,000 jobs regionally. Recreation managers are struggling to find solutions which will accommodate future recreational demand while protecting the river's fish and wildlife resources. UMRCC recreation managers are also actively seeking to implement certain recreational provisions of the Environmental Management Program that have not been funded thus far.

    Engineering studies underway at several sites on the Illinois and Mississippi Rivers are examining the potential for producing hydropower electricity. The impacts of hydropower on UMR fisheries resources is largely unknown. UMRCC fisheries biologists have been very active in the federal licensing process for proposed hydropower facilities on the river. Biologists are battling with pro-development interests over the need for appropriate fish protection measures at proposed facilities. New hydropower is also being considered for the river. This technology is called "hydrokinetic" and uses a series of small turbines deep in the water column.

This is an example of backwater island restoration on the Mississippi River Navigation Pool 8 near Stoddard, WI, funded by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Over time wave and ice action eroded the islands that once dotted the bay. In 1999, islands were constructed so that aquatic plants could grow in a 500-acre protected area for birds and fish. Today the area is considered one of the best fisheries in the area.

      The Environmental Management Program(EMP), approved by Congress in 1986, is a federal-state partnership designed to restore, protect, and monitor the natural resources of the Upper Mississippi River(UMR) System. Without agency intervention, valuable fish and wildlife habitat on the river would soon be lost. The EMP is under the direction of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACOE) and includes two major components: Long Term Resource Monitoring Project(LTRMP) & Habitat Rehabilitation and Enhancement Projects(HREP).

      The LTRMP part of the EMP provides decision makers with information about the river system through monitoring the river's health and researching the river's ecology. The U.S. Geological Survey(USGS) leads the LTRMP in partnership with the USACOE and the states of Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, and Wisconsin. Because of this program, there is a wealth of data including aerial photographs, maps, scientific reports, and water depths available on the USGS website.

      The HREP part of the EMP are projects designed to benefit fish, waterfowl, and other wildlife by restoring or protecting fish and wildlife habitat, including island building, backwater dredging, shoreline improvements, structures to regulate water flow, and water level management. Under the leadership of the USACOE, the projects are planned and designed by teams of individuals from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Corps of Engineers, and the state natural resource or conservation agencies. Private citizens and organizations also play an important role in this planning process.

      Ongoing habitat projects such as the Pool 8 Stoddard Islands funded through the federal Environmental Management Program and administered through the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have helped restore or improve more than 75,000 acres of waterfowl, fish, and wildife habitat on the UMR.Currently the USACOE is working on island restoration near Brownsville, MN.

The Mississippi River is among the world's greatest river ecosystems. Along the 1,859,000 acres of water, wetlands, and floodplain of the mainstem river between St. Paul, Minnesota, and Cairo, Illinois, there are 118 species of fish and over 40 species of freshwater mussels. Up to 40% of North America's ducks, geese, swans, and wading birds use the Mississippi flyway. Although there are numerous government agencies who manage multiple aspects of the river's resources, there is no single entity with the authority to manage the UMR ecosystem in its entirety.

      In spite of the UMRCC's 65 years of coordination efforts among the states and federal agencies, limited authorities, jurisdictional boundaries, inadequate funding, etc. prevent the application of comprehensive management strategies which are needed to ensure that the UMR ecosystem remains productive for future generations. To meet these continuing future challenges the UMRCC is calling for the development of a comprehensive ecosystem management strategy to guide the multiple UMR organizations in forming a true partnership to manage the river as an ecosystem rather than as bits and pieces. However, the River resource managers are bridging the gap. In 2000, a document, 'A River That Works and a Working River' was completed and has been an excellent guide for managing the river. Since that time, many other plans have been prepared using many of the principles outlined in this document. Many of the projects worked on under the Environmental Management Program are recommended in this plan. New work on water level management, flood plain restoration, and fish passage are just a few examples of doing business with an ecosystem approach.

      Although it is now being called "ecosystem management" this is the same situation that spurred the original group of biologists to organize back in 1943. The exception is that now, instead of just unifying fishing regulations, etc., one of the goals of ecosystem management would be to develop a unified resource management policy to preserve and enhance the Upper Mississippi River ecosystem. Such a policy would hopefully result in management actions needed to maintain the long-term health of Mississippi River natural resources for future generations. Such an ecosystem management is likely to require new legislation to alter the current institutional framework. Such an undertaking may prove to be the UMRCC's greatest challenge of the next 50 years, and the most critical.

This plan calls for a dual-purpose, 50-year project authority for nine-foot channel commercial navigation and ecosystem restoration. Costs over 50 years are projected at $2.4B for navigation improvements and $5.3B for ecosystem restoration. Authorization passed in November 2007, however current funding is at maintenance level. Hopefully full funding will be a reality in the near future. The Bill obligates $1.7 billion for the environment for the next 15 years. NESP represents a win-win situation for both commercial navigation and ecosystem restoration proponents. Implementation of the plan is a joint effort among the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and other federal agencies, the five states of the Upper Mississippi River, and private organizations. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has a major Federal trust interest in the Upper Mississippi River System(UMRS) because of the presence of 11 National Wildlife Refuges; an international flyway for migratory birds; federally-listed endangered species; and interjurisdictional fish.

      Funding will help with ecosystem restoration such as: backwater and side channel restoration, water level management, floodplain restoration, and fish passage along 1,300 miles of rivers and thousands of acres of wetlands.


Climate Change

Navigation & Ecosystem 
Sustainability Program (NESP)

The Future

Habitat Rehabilitation & 
Enhancement Project (HREP)




Water Quality


UMRCC Activities

Source: Wikipedia


The UMRCC Executive Board approved a Position Statement on Climate Change in June 2008:
UMRCC Position Statement on Climate Change


River Connectivity


   In the Upper Mississippi River Conservation Committee’s (UMRCC) recent report “A River That Works and a Working River,” restoring habitat connectivity is cited as a major goal (McGuiness 2000). Generic terms such as “connectivity, habitat connectivity or aquatic connectivity” can be interpreted in several different ways and has caused some confusion as to how the goal of “Restore Backwater/Main Channel Connectivity” could best be accomplished. To address this confusion, and ensure consistent use and understanding of the different terms used for connectivity, the UMRCC Fisheries and Wildlife technical sections developed definitions for some of the different types of aquatic connectivity recognized by river managers and scientists.
      Restoration of habitat connectivity is a management objective (tool) utilized to achieve desired plant and animal responses. Although restoration/simulation of a natural river hydrograph is a worthy paradigm, restoring hydraulic/hydrologic connections may not be naturally achievable or desirable under current altered hydrologic regimes. Sedimentation, unnaturally fluctuating water levels and non-native species continue to degrade limited warm- and cold-blooded animal habitats. It may be desirable to moderately sequester additional floodplain acreage (at some river locations) from man-induced river regulation in order to achieve desired acreages of waterbird habitats and to create connections between habitats to achieve desired fish, mussel and other aquatic organisms population levels.
      Scientific monitoring and research efforts are needed to assess the merits of connectivity related management alternatives. The large-scale agricultural isolation of much of the Mississippi, Missouri, and Illinois River floodplains has been detrimental to aquatic flora and fauna. Shoreline and island erosion have resulted in excessive connectivity between some aquatic habitats under current hydrologic regimes.
      The UMRCC considers restoring lateral surface and subsurface connectivity in the UMRS a management tool for achieving specific habitat restoration/enhancement opportunities and complimentary animal population and diversity objectives based on site-specific, habitat-driven goals.