Mississippi River Basin Program


Launched in 1995, The Mississippi River Basin Program (MRBP) envisions a Mississippi River Basin where livelihoods and the economy can thrive alongside conserved wetlands, restored floodplains, resilient ecosystems, and clean streams. Recognizing the role of informed policy debate in achieving this vision, the MRBP strives to provide detailed research and analysis to policy makers at all levels of government, as well as facilitate discussion and exchange between lawmakers and the region’s stakeholders.

The Program has several key goals:

  • Conduct a robust policy education and outreach program targeted to the US Congress to advance the environmental quality of the Mississippi River Basin.
  • Provide trusted, nonpartisan research, analysis, and news relating to the impact of federal policy on the Mississippi River Basin.
  • Facilitate key communications between regional stakeholders, Congressional members, and governmental agencies.
  • Develop a group of well-versed and highly-networked advocates who are informed and actively engaged in issues of wetland protection and restoration, floodplain connectivity and development, and Mississippi River water quality.

In order to achieve these goals, the Program is undertaking a number of ongoing projects:

  • Providing detailed scientific research and policy analysis to inform Congress on conservation, restoration, and water quality that will inform the debates shaping the next Farm Bill.
  • Identifying gaps in water quality data and research that overlap with policy issues identified by key stakeholders, as well as proposing solutions for filling these gaps to better inform conservation efforts.
  • Hosting policy briefings on Capitol Hill regarding key issues facing the Basin.
  • Publishing a weekly newsletter for Basin stakeholders regarding Washington, DC developments affecting the region.

Recent News


Briefings, Webinars, and Updates

The MRBP partners with fellow advocacy groups, government agencies and task forces, and stakeholder organizations to make our briefings comprehensive and useful to all perspectives. MRBP collaborates with its many congressional contacts to secure reservations of Capitol Hill briefings rooms in order to make the briefings convenient and accessible to congressional staff looking to learn more about Mississippi River issues and connect with MRBP’s network of experts.

Legislative Policy Analysis

MRBP is tracking developments in the legislative process as they pertain to the Mississippi River Basin, as well as identifying important legislative priorities for the 115th Congress in the areas of agriculture, appropriations, commerce, environment, transportation and infrastructure, and water quality. Particular legislative priorities drawing the MRBP’s attention include the reauthorization of the Water Resources Development Act and the Energy Bill conference, particularly the Senate’s provision to permanently reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund. The 115th Congress’ preparatory work for the next iteration of the Farm Bill is also of great interest to the MRBP. Additionally, MRBP staff are contributors to the ongoing appropriations tracking done by the Institute.

Supporting Congressional Discussion and Collaboration

MRBP maintains a strong advisory role with the Upper Mississippi River Basin Task Force, a team of nineteen congressmen collaborating on legislation, appropriations, and messaging. A subset of the Northeast-Midwest Congressional Coalition, the Task Force enables its members to collaborate more closely with each other and with stakeholders in the region they represent. Maintaining the Task Force allows for more frequent and robust receptions, summits, and briefings that bring together legislative staff, agency officials, and stakeholders to cooperate and network. It also provides a good network by which the MRBP can disseminate its latest scientific research and policy analysis to help shape legislation in the region.

Scientific Research and Analysis

MRBP scientific research is currently focused on identifying water policy issues and the gaps in water quality data that undermine informed decision making. With Farm Bill reauthorization expected in 2018, it is critical that lawmakers have access to appropriate data and scientific analysis to identify key water quality issues and to adopt effective policies to combat them.

Recent MRBP scientific research has revealed that there is currently no location within the Mississippi River Basin where conservation activities have been geographically targeted with the purpose of improving the water quality of the waterbody, rather than on agricultural field scale. This lack of targeting makes relating the success of conservation programs related to watershed-scale water quality impossible. It is unclear what changes in water quality on a watershed scale, and subsequent changes or improvements in the Gulf of Mexico, can or cannot be attributed to management practices implemented via the Farm Bill.

Current MRBP research is looking to identify water data and supporting information needed and available for measuring nutrient loads and nutrient reductions in the Mississippi River Basin. By quantifying the spatial and temporal data needs to answer a specific policy question, this study will elucidate whether water quality data collected and shared within the Mississippi River Watershed are keeping pace with data needs for effectively managing and protecting the Mississippi River, its tributaries, and the Gulf of Mexico. The study will recommend strategies for filling any identified data gaps including water data, agricultural management practice implementation data, and other critical supporting data needed to determine water quality trends.

Outreach to Stakeholders

The MRBP circulates a weekly newsletter, the Mississippi River Basin News, to the Basin’s major stakeholders. The newsletter includes a brief summary of policy happenings throughout Washington, DC, including legislative updates, press briefings, congressional hearings, government publications, and executive orders. It also features a curated collection of news and journal items from around the Mississippi River Basin. An archive of current and past editions of the newsletter can be found here.

Collaborating with Fellow Advocacy Groups

The MRBP has been instrumental to the success of the Mississippi River Cities and Towns Initiative (MRCTI), a project composed of seventy-four mayors across 10 states whose cities depend on access to the Mississippi River’s water and vibrant ecosystems. The Initiative aids city governments in launching local initiatives to support green jobs, preserve streams and wetlands, and restore environments polluted by industry and agricultural run-off. The MRCTI began as a project within the Mississippi River Basin Program in 2012. With the MRBP’s help, the MRCTI has transitioned out of the Institute as its own independent entity. The MRBP continues to partner with the MRCTI.

The MRBP is also active within the Mississippi River Collaborative, a partnership of seven non-profit policy research and advocacy groups dedicated to restoring and conserving wetlands, as well as reducing chemical pollution from agricultural sources. The MRBP maintains a seat on the wetlands, agriculture, and nutrients working groups, and partners with fellow members to present briefings to Capitol Hill legislative staff in Washington, D.C.


The Institute collaborates with Mississippi River Basin partners who are involved in a long-term process of creating environmental policy change. By providing a trusted voice in the research and policy arena, the MRBP provides its partners with the information they need to fulfill their missions. The Institute’s MRBP likewise looks to our partners in the Basin to highlight the most critical issues affecting the Mississippi. Partners and key regional organizations involved in various work with the Mississippi River Basin Program in recent years include:

  • Mississippi River Collaborative
  • Mississippi River Network
  • Upper Mississippi River Basin Association
  • Floodplain Science Network
  • National Great Rivers Research and Education Center
  • America’s Watershed Initiative
  • America’s Waterway
  • Farm Bill Conservation Coalition
  • Mississippi River Caucus
  • Mississippi River Valley and Tributaries Caucus
  • Army Corp of Engineers – Civil Works
  • Fish and Wildlife Service
  • Geological Survey – National Water Quality Assessment Program
  • Environmental Protection Agency
  • Upper Mississippi River Basin Congressional Task Force


The MRBP is supported with grants from the McKnight Foundation and the Walton Family Foundation. The Program responds directly to the Walton Family Foundation’s strategies for keeping the Basin clean and productive by advocating for Farm Bill priorities and for stronger water quality programs. The Program also strives to advance the McKnight Foundation’s three Mississippi River program priorities: water quality; wetland protection and restoration; and cross-boundary and interagency coordination.


Eric Heath — Senior Policy Counsel

Eric Heath joined the NEMWI staff as Senior Policy Counsel for the Institute’s Mississippi River Basin Program in 2018.  He provides research and analysis on various policy matters related to the Mississippi River Basin Program, serves as a point of contact for Capitol Hill offices, and supports the Institute’s policy education initiatives, especially related to the Mississippi River Basin.

Eric holds an LL.M. in International Economic Law from the University of Edinburgh (2016), a J.D. from the University of Georgia School of Law (2015), and a B.A. in Law, Justice, & Society from Lipscomb University (2012). During his time at the University of Georgia, Eric served as a Notes Editor for the Georgia Journal of International and Comparative Law. He is also a member of the Georgia Bar.

Before joining NEMWI, Eric worked as a Legislative Fellow for Congressman Matt Cartwright and an International Law Fellow at the American Society of International Law. He also worked during law school as a legal intern at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission’s Office of International Affairs, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization – Unit of the 1970 Convention, and the Centre for International Law at Vrije Universiteit Brussel. Additionally, he served as a research assistant to the then director of the Dean Rusk Center for International Law and Policy, Ambassador C. Donald Johnson.

Ankita Mandelia — Policy Analyst

Ankita Mandelia started working at the Northeast-Midwest Institute in 2016 to provide research and policy education support. Her focus is on the Mississippi River Basin, and availability of water quality data for the entire Northeast-Midwest region.

Prior to joining the Northeast-Midwest Institute, Ankita was the first Michigan Sea Grant Fellow at the International Joint Commission – Great Lakes Regional Office. Before her fellowship, Ankita worked at Environmental Consulting & Technology, Inc. in Ann Arbor, MI as an environmental engineer, and at the City of Southfield, MI as a municipal engineering intern. Much of her prior work, as well as her master’s degree, concentrated on the Great Lakes Areas of Concern.

Ankita holds a Master of Science in Environmental Engineering from Michigan Technological University and a Bachelor of Science in Engineering (Civil Engineering) from the University of Michigan.

Michael J. Goff — Management of Policy Education and Outreach

Dr. Michael J. Goff is President and CEO of the Northeast-Midwest Institute. A native of Philadelphia, he spent much of his career in Baltimore, and more recently in Washington, D.C.

Dr. Goff has three decades of senior executive experience in management, development, and communications, and a long-standing interest in government, public policy, and nonprofit institutions. From 2011 to 2015, he served as senior vice president and chief development officer at Independent Sector, a leadership organization representing and serving the nonprofit and philanthropic community nationwide. Dr. Goff also served for 21 years as vice president for development and college relations at Loyola University Maryland, from 1987 to 2008.

Dr. Goff earned a Ph.D. in Government at Georgetown University in 2002, specializing in American Politics, Public Policy, and Political Theory. He also holds an M.A. in Political Science from the University of Pennsylvania and a B.A. in Political Science from Saint Joseph’s University. His research on the impact of money and the media during the early stage of the presidential nomination process was published in 2004 in his book The Money Primary: The New Politics of the Early Presidential Nomination Process.