US Army Corps of Engineers
Rock Island District

District Projects

Upper Mississippi River Watershed - Planning Assistance to States

Published April 26, 2019


Project Manager


The Upper Mississippi River Basin surrounds the river starting at the Ohio River Confluence in Cairo, Illinois, and stretching northward 1,250 miles to the headwaters at Lake Itasca, Minnesota.


The Upper Mississippi River System provides unparalleled value to the Nation. The challenges facing the Upper Mississippi River System (UMRS) are large and growing; only by working together and seeking collaborative solutions will meaningful and sustained progress be achieved to meet these many challenges.

Flood and channel constriction events are occurring in unusual and unpredictable ways that federal and state agencies and floodplain communities are not prepared to deal with.  Land use development and changing weather patterns have resulted in an excessive volume of water and sediment moving through the watershed and river-floodplain at a high velocity.  Structural and nonstructural measures impact neighboring communities and habitats in ways not fully understood.  There are also no contingency plans to address prolonged droughts.

This Planning Assistance to States (PAS) effort will assist leaders within the UMRS with fostering productive discussion among affected interests in the development of solutions and prioritization of investments across boundaries to solve challenges within this highly dynamic river-floodplain.

Three key issue areas of the PAS and include Flood Risk Management, Channel Maintenance/Sedimentation, and Extended Drought Conditions. 

This two-year PAS study aims to align goals and objectives of the interagency team and various stakeholder groups, building on those identified in previous workshops and summits.


The Upper Mississippi River basin is home to approximately 30 million people with major urban centers concentrated in three major cities. The landscape is dominated by forests and lakes in the northern headwaters and highly productive agricultural land to the south. A series of locks and dams regulates the flow and level of the river for navigation. Twenty-nine locks and dams on the Mississippi River, and eight on the Illinois River provide for the movement of commercial and recreational boat traffic along the river.

The natural ecosystems of the river have substantially altered. Runoff from agricultural fields carries sediment, nutrients, and agricultural chemicals into the rivers. Sediment deposition is filling wetland and riparian areas. Limited disposal sites and constraining funding and policies result in frequent constrictions or closures of the navigation channel.  Emergency situations are costly to industry and the public and require expedited environmental reviews.

Rainfall patterns, temperature, and storms control seasonal river flow and are key factors that put added stress on levees, transportation systems, water supply and may alter seasonal flows necessary to support healthy ecosystems. Flooding is increasing in frequency, intensity, and duration.  The levees and other flood risk management infrastructure were developed at various times over decades with no real systemic objectives or approaches.

More severe and persistent droughts will similarly have major impacts. The Upper Mississippi watershed has experienced increasing drought events in greater frequency, duration, and intensity with costly implications to agriculture and water supply.  Low water events can constrict the navigation channel and impact water suppliers and energy sectors.  Recent, longer-lasting events, highlighted the fact that droughts lasting six months or longer (depending on severity) could have devastating economic and ecological impacts.

Maintaining the viability and vitality of the system will mean addressing the difficult current and future challenges including maintaining the nine-foot navigation channel, increasing variability in weather patterns and water flows, minimizing flood damages, and maintaining economic competitiveness.


The PAS agreement was executed with the Sponsor, the Upper Mississippi River Basin Association (UMRBA), on November 27, 2019. A kick-off meeting was held in January 2019 and the team identified key locations to hold open forum meetings along the UMR to collect data from waterway users and to build consensus among the three key issue areas. The open forums are set to start on June 8, 2019 and run through August 3, 2019. The website is scheduled to go live in May 2019.

Additional Information

This multi-agency effort is rooted in the idea that meaningful improvements within the system require a diverse collaboration of river partners and private citizens looking at the whole system, crafting a common vision and seeking collective action and solutions.

The team will work to develop a communication strategy though civil engagement. These civil engagements will build awareness and appreciation for how the different river-floodplain stakeholders are affected given today’s watershed and weather dynamics, river-floodplain infrastructure, and management policies.

Polling, online surveying, and comment forms on the study’s website will allow additional stakeholder input. Data from previous workshops, the open forums, and from online polling will be hosted on the website for review and to validate information collected.

The information collection phase will conclude in the spring of 2020. The Project Delivery Team will analyze that data and begin the report documentation. Potential short-term actions that will be evaluated during this phase will include Private-Public Partnerships, Continuing Authorities Program or Silver Jackets opportunities. Potential Long-term solutions may include a watershed study, hydraulic modeling, sedimentation modeling, and/or drought forecasting. A report will be furnished by the end of October 2020.

This investment in the Upper Mississippi River System is critical to our nation’s economic prosperity and our future. Now is the time for leaders from across all missions to come together and develop a shared vision and strategy so future generations can enjoy this nationally significant resource.


Project Authority – Section 22 of the Water Resources Development Act of 1974 (PL 93-251)

Summarized Project Costs

Estimated Federal Cost $100,000
Estimated Non-federal Cost $100,000
Estimated Total Project Cost $200,000
Allocations Prior to FY2019 $0
Current FY2019 Allocations $60,000


Major Work Item Current Year

FY 2019: Funds are being used to fund labor for USACE, UMRBA, and State leads for their meeting and open forum attendance, data collection and analysis, website development and management, and report documentation and finalization.