States along the Mississippi River soon may get some federal help in restoring water quality, fighting off invasive carp and defending against floods along the great river.

U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum and a handful of lawmakers will ask Congress to set aside up to $350 million a year to restore the river, from the headwaters at Lake Itasca to the dead zone where it empties into the Gulf of Mexico.

While introducing the proposal Monday, McCollum praised past efforts to reduce pollution in the Mississippi.

"But from the northernmost headwater communities to the Mississippi Delta, the health of this great river continues to be at risk," she said. "A coordinated federal effort is necessary to restore the health of this vital waterway."

McCollum, D-Minn., co-authored the plan with four other Democratic representatives from states along the river.

The proposal is modeled after the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, which has provided more than $3 billion for restoration work along the Great Lakes.

It would create a federal program, run by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), that would award grants to states, tribes and local organizations for projects throughout the Mississippi watershed. Lawmakers said they have no specific projects in mind for the money.

It would be available in each of the 10 states the river runs through, focusing on projects within the 30-million-acre flood plain and some direct tributaries.

The EPA would prioritize funding projects that would clean drinking water or reduce runoff and pollution from phosphates, nitrates and other nutrients.

It also would be directed to use the money to fight off invasive carp, including the bighead and silver carp that have infested much of the river from Iowa on down and are threatening to establish permanent populations in Minnesota and Wisconsin.

The program would set aside money to restore wetlands and backwaters to help buffer the surrounding areas from floods.

The plan was praised by a number of local and national conservation organizations, which warned that the river has been threatened in recent years by increasing urban and agricultural runoff as well as more intense storms and frequent floods.

"We need a coordinated, holistic approach, one that respects and supports local solutions," said Whitney Clark, executive director of St. Paul-based Friends of the Mississippi River.

The Mississippi is one of the most important rivers in the world but is in dire need, said Collin O'Mara, president and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation.

The proposal "provides the tools, investments and focus needed to ensure that river communities and wildlife can thrive," he said.

Greg Stanley • 612-673-4882