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THE GREAT RIVERS PARTNERSHIP brings together diverse stakeholders and best science to work toward sustainable management and development of the world’s most critical river systems.

 Water Quality

Water quality sampling in the Mississippi River - © Erika Nortemann/TNC

Clean, safe and adequate freshwater is vital to the survival of all living organisms and the smooth function of ecosystems, communities and economies. Declining water quality has become a global issue of concern as human populations grow, industrial and agricultural activities expand, and climate change threatens major alterations to the hydrological cycle. Water quality issues are complex and diverse, and are deserving of urgent global action.

From a management perspective, water quality is defined by its desired end use. Consequently, water for recreation, fishing, drinking and habitat for aquatic organisms requires higher levels of purity, whereas for hydropower, quality standards are much less important. For this reason, water quality takes on a broad definition as the ‘‘physical, chemical and biological characteristics of water necessary to sustain desired water uses’’ (UN/ECE 1995). It needs to be noted that after its use, water usually returns back to the hydrological system and, if left untreated, can severely impact the environment.

The major sources of water pollution are from human settlements and industrial and agricultural activities. Negative factors related to these activities include unhygienic disposal and inadequate treatment of human and livestock wastes, deficient management and treatment of industrial residues, inappropriate agricultural practices and unsafe solid waste discharge.

The Great Rivers Partnership works with farmers, other landowners and industry leaders to mitigate impact on water quality. 

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Intro excerpt republished with permission from UN-Water's Policy Brief. UN-Water is the inter-agency mechanism that promotes coherence in, and coordination of, United Nations’ system actions aimed at the implementation of the agenda defined by the Millennium Declaration and the World Summit on Sustainable Development as it relates to its scope of work.


Improving Water Quality on the Root and Pecatonica Rivers

Minnesota's Root River and Wisconsin's Pecatonica in the Mississippi River Basin act as GRP proof-of-concept sites, demonstrating how diverse stakeholders can restore and protect water quality.

Working with Agriculture to Improve River Health (6MB, pdf)

Download these case studies to learn more about stewardship practices that are helping improve quality and advance economic prosperity.