The state of water quality strategies in the Mississippi River Basin: Is cooperative federalism working?

There is consensus that the Clean Water Act (CWA) has generally been effective in addressing point source pollution in the US. There is also consensus that non-point source (NPS) pollution, particularly from agriculture, remains a problem. The potential for the CWA framework to affect change is unclear, due to the limited power of the US federal government in addressing NPS, the contentiousness surrounding it, and the lack of funding to implement plans that have been developed. States are critical in improving water quality in the U.S. In the Mississippi River Basin, State-level Nutrient Reduction Strategies are the vehicle chosen by the Environmental Protection Agency to improve water quality. We develop an assessment of the twelve Mississippi River states' strategies. We consider three issues: whether there is science-based support for a choice, with a focus on NPS; if and how updates on progress are available; and whether there is alignment of funding and abatement priorities. We find that the use of best science is limited, the role of livestock in pollution and its abatement is ignored, and the development of Numeric Nutrient Criteria is stalled. Further, several states have not reported on their progress, and there has been little additional funding for pollution reduction. This analysis can inform broader discussions on decentralized approaches to address water quality.