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Rep. Ron Kind (D-Wis.) has said he will introduce legislation into the House of Representatives which would increase funding for and focus conservation programmes on high priority watersheds in the Upper Mississippi River basin.

The Upper Mississippi River Basin Conservation Act of 2000 would increase funding to schemes – such as the Conservation Reserve Program – which provide assistance to landowners who adopt land use practices that reduce soil erosion and polluted runoff.

Rep. Kind’s proposal would also create a water quality monitoring network for the basin, introduce computer modelling to identify major sources of sediment and nutrients and fund new research programmes.

“We not only need to spend more to combat polluted runoff, we need to spend smarter,” Jeff Stein, Mississippi River Regional Representative for American Rivers said.

A quarter of fertiliser washes off farm fields in the region leading to regular violations of water quality standards for dissolved oxygen, pH, nitrate and ammonia for tributaries to the Mississippi.

In particular, streams in Iowa and Illinois – despite draining only nine percent of the basin – contribute as much as 35% of the nitrogen washed into the Mississippi during years of average rainfall, and much more during years with high rainfall.

Overall, runoff from farms and city streets contributes 90% of the nitrogen and phosphorous being washed into the Mississippi River. “Farmers are willing to do their part, but we need to recognise the economic risks they take when they adopt new land use practices,” Stein said. “Rep. Kind’s proposal will give farmers the tools and incentives they need to be better stewards.”

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