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Lawmaker wants study of Mississippi waters

What's flowing into the Mississippi River and where is it going once it gets there would be the focus of a study Rep. Ron Kind, D-Wis., wants the U.S. Geological Survey to undertake.

A measure introduced by Kind called "The Upper Mississippi River Basin Protection Act " unanimously passed the U.S. House on a voice vote Tuesday and it would task USGS with conducting a public and private study of nutriment and sediment runoff in the Upper Mississippi River Basin.

"Increased sediment and nutrient flow into the Upper Mississippi River Basin poses a very serious threat to the long-term health of the entire river system," said Kind.

He noted that the river basin is the source of drinking water for approximately 22 million people and barges transport millions of tons of cargo along the system's 1,300 miles of navigable waterways.

The basin also provides more than $7.8 billion in recreation and tourism income to the region, according to Kind.

Under the more than $6.9 million act, the USGS would work with other federal, state, local and tribal governments to set up a monitoring system in the Mississippi River watershed area.

According to Anne Lupardus, a Kind spokesperson, the study would be done on a permanent basis, but Congress would have to re-appropriate the money to fund the study each year.

The system would monitor runoff from farmlands to see what is it and where it is going in the river system.

The system would also monitor sediments in the system and ways to reduce both sediment and nutriment runoffs.

Kind says that the increased soil erosion causes fertilizers to run off causing high nitrogen levels at a $300 million cost to farmers.

He also noted that sediment buildup costs the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers more than $100 million in annual dredging costs.

"This legislation will make significant strides toward reducing the flow of harmful pollutants into the river, and the effective, basin-wide, and non-regulatory approach represents the consensus of farmers, industry leaders, sporting groups, conservation organizations and government agencies," Kind said.

The act also requires that the USGS set up a Web site so that the public would have access to the data being collected.

Kind currently co-chairs the Upper Mississippi River Task Force and hopes that the U.S. Senate will follow the lead of the lower house.

"I urge the Senate to take quick action on this bill," he said.

The same measure has failed twice before in the U.S. Senate.