Effigy Mounds National Monument/Iowa

Clean Water

Protecting the Upper Mississippi River

ELPC is working with communities to clean up pollution, plan resilient infrastructure, and create green jobs throughout the Mississippi watershed, while preserving the wild and natural places that make this region so special.

The 2,340-mile Mississippi River flows through ten states – Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois, Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi, & Louisiana – before emptying into the Gulf of Mexico. Along the way, it provides unique wildlife habitat and drinking water for over 18 million people. This watershed has stitched together the history of the Midwest, providing vital cultural, recreational, and economic resources from the Native American mound builders to today’s bustling cities, from Mark Twain to the inventors of water skiing.

Despite its size and importance, the mighty Mississippi River is not immune to threats. The river has been neglected, polluted, and mistreated for economic gain for decades, and many of these struggles remain. American Rivers just named the Upper Mississippi as the nation’s most endangered river. New challenges like invasive species, expanding crude oil infrastructure, and climate change threaten our waterways, but communities are also finding creative new solutions to these problems. ELPC is working with our colleagues to clean up old pollution, plan resilient infrastructure, and create jobs in the green economy. We know that healthy rivers mean healthy communities and healthy economies.

What is ELPC Doing?

Conserving wild and natural places like the Driftless Area.

Straddling the Mississippi lies a stretch of the Midwest that was untouched by the last glacial drift, across parts of Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, and Illinois. The Driftless region is a treasured place to camp, fish, hike, hunt, and tour vineyards and organic farms, with unique topography and deep rolling hills. Unfortunately, plans for a massive high-powered transmission line threaten to cut a wide swath through this pristine area and destroy part of the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife & Fish Refuge, sparking protest near and far. With energy demand flat or declining in the area, there is no energy need for this destructive transmission line. ELPC is representing the Driftless Area Land Conservancy and the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation in the courts, as they fight the ATC Cardinal-Hickory Creek transmission line.

Protecting the Mississippi headwaters from crude oil.

The proposed Enbridge Line 3 would traverse an ecologically vulnerable part of northern Minnesota and Wisconsin, carrying the same heavy “dilbit” oil from the tar sands that devastated the Kalamazoo River in 2010. This pipeline would cross rivers, lakes, and wetlands, including Native American “ceded territories” where the Bands retain hunting, fishing, and gathering rights. The pipeline would cross near the headwaters of the Mississippi River and then travel east into the Lake Superior watershed, threatening priceless freshwater resources. Working with local colleagues, ELPC attorneys are urging the state to consider whether there is any genuine need for the pipeline, to seriously evaluate alternative routes, and to require Enbridge to set aside funds for any potential ruptures, so taxpayers won’t be stuck with the bill for years of cleanup.

Reducing pollution and algal blooms.

Runoff pollution is drastically under-regulated, whether from urban or rural sources along the river and its many tributaries. The excess nitrogen, phosphorus, and other materials that flow into small streams and rivers across a third of the country eventually find their way into the Mississippi and then the Gulf of Mexico. Locally, this “non-point source pollution” contributes to excess algae that blooms into stinky and sometimes toxic masses that can contaminate drinking water, causing illnesses for animals and humans. In the Gulf of Mexico, it creates a massive “dead zone” where no oxygen is available for native aquatic life to thrive. ELPC is working to improve water quality criteria and enforce the Clean Water Act to prevent such pollution.

Advocating for resilient communities.

Climate change is already warming the Midwest faster than the rest of the nation, exacerbating destructive spring floods, expanding the territory of invasive species, and causing many other impacts. ELPC put together a state-of-the-science report assessing climate risks around the region, by local experts. We are working to amplify the science and advocate for green infrastructure to build resilient communities. We are also working to shift the Midwest to cleaner transportation and energy solutions, for the long-term health and economic strength of our region.

Related Projects

View All
Clean Water

Reducing Mercury and Air Toxics

Clean Water

Shutting Down Dirty Coal

Clean Water

Protecting the Upper Mississippi River

Clean Water

Cleaning Up the Ohio River