Meet Madeline Heim, our new reporter covering the Mississippi River Basin

When I took my first real reporting job at a newspaper in Winona, Minn., I spent a lot of time hanging out by the Mississippi River.

I had just moved to a small town where I knew next to no one, and I had little to do on evenings and weekends —except wander around and appreciate the area's natural beauty. The city is bordered on one side by steep, towering bluffs, and on the other by the river, which runs wide and slow in its uppermost reaches, carving the border between Wisconsin and Minnesota.

Madeline Heim
Madeline Heim

Even as I got settled, made friends and made a life, I always came back to the Mississippi when I needed a moment of grounding or solace. There's something extraordinary about being so close to one of the world's most important waterways that you can dip your toes in it.

Today, I'm honored to be reporting on the Mississippi River for my new job at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. I'm excited to dive in to environmental challenges, solutions and success stories throughout the river basin.

Help me report: Fill out this short survey on what stories you'd like to see about the Mississippi River Basin

I came to the Journal Sentinel in June as a part of Report for America, a national service program that places journalists in newsrooms across the country to write about under-covered issues and communities. But I'm no stranger to Wisconsin. I grew up in the Milwaukee suburbs and spent the last few years covering the COVID-19 pandemic for The Post-Crescent in Appleton. My stories appear in USA TODAY NETWORK newspapers across Wisconsin.

I'm also part of an exciting venture born at the Missouri School of Journalism called the Mississippi River Basin Ag & Water Desk. The Journal Sentinel is one of 10 newsrooms from the Twin Cities down to New Orleans with reporters specifically dedicated to this coverage. Don't be surprised if you see my byline next to other reporters from outlets like the Daily Memphian, the Louisville Courier-Journal or the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. In addition to our own work, members of the Ag & Water Desk are banding together on stories about water quality and land use across the entire river basin. (We just published our first big project about how historic floods are affecting the Mississippi.)

The Mississippi River is vitally important to Wisconsin, the nation and the world. If you live west of Milwaukee, every drop of rain or snow that falls eventually ends up there. It provides drinking water for millions of Americans, supports more than 400 wildlife species and is a major artery for shipping, including the more than 90% of American agricultural exports that are grown in the basin. Tourism, fishing and recreation on the river generate more than $20 billion per year.

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It's got some big problems to contend with: those aforementioned historic floods (and in contrast, this year's historic drought), declining floodplain habitat, the threat of invasive species and maybe most infamously, and the Dead Zone where the river pours out into the Gulf of Mexico. (That's not a faraway issue; pollutants from here in the Midwest are some of the culprits.)

But for all of its challenges, there are also people working hard to fix them — pursuing habitat restoration projects, helping special wild places adapt to climate change and getting creative to reduce pollutants that can seep into our waters, just to name a few that I've covered so far.

There's so much I want to write about, but I need your help in telling me what you want to read. If you live in western Wisconsin or near the river, I want to know: What environmental challenges are you facing? How are they affecting your community? If you live elsewhere in the state, tell me what you'd like to know about the Mississippi River Basin and its impact. You can weigh in on my coverage by filling out this quick survey, or reach me by email at

I am thrilled to learn more about the beautiful Driftless Region that I fell in love with a few years ago in Winona and to share the stories of the people who call it home. As always, thanks for reading.

Madeline Heim is a Report for America corps reporter who writes about environmental issues in the Mississippi River watershed and across Wisconsin. Contact her at 920-996-7266 or Please consider directly supporting her work with a tax-deductible gift to this reporting effort at or by check made out to The GroundTruth Project with subject line Report for America Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Campaign. Address: The GroundTruth Project, Lockbox Services, 9450 SW Gemini Dr, PMB 46837, Beaverton, Oregon 97008-7105.

This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Madeline Heim to cover Mississippi River Basin for Journal Sentinel