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Drinking Water and the Mississippi River

Along the Mississippi River, residents are able to purchase clean water from the municipalities, who work hard to make the water as pure as possible, and to sell it at an affordable rate. Of the 7 sites where performances will occur, 6 of then use the river as the main source for their tap water.

Making clean water available for public consumption has become an important world-wide issue. On other continents, a handful of private companies have purchased the land where the water comes from, and then sell the water at rates that are exorbitant. This hardship is especially on the local poor people.

The Watershed

A watershed is the area that drains into the same water system. The Mississippi River watershed stretches as Far East as the Allegheny Mountains and extends west to the Rocky Mountains, and all the rainfall eventually finds its way to the mouth at the Gulf of Mexico. This watershed covers some 43% of the United States. The basin covers more than 1,245,000 square miles, including all or parts of 31 states and two Canadian provinces.

The Mainstem of the Mississippi River

Speed: A raindrop falling in Lake Itasca would arrive at the Gulf of Mexico in about 90 days.  At the headwaters of the Mississippi, the average surface speed of the water is near 1.2 miles per hour - roughly one-third as fast as people walk. At New Orleans, on 2/24/2003, the speed of the river was 3 miles per hour.

Length: This is a difficult measurement to pin down because the river channel is constantly changing. For example, staff at Itasca State Park, the Mississippi's headwaters, say the is 2,552 miles long. The US Geologic Survey has published a number of 2,300 miles (3,705 kilometers), the EPA says it is 2,320 miles long, and the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area maintains its length at 2,350 miles.

Width: At Lake Itasca, the river is between 20-30 feet wide, the narrowest stretch for its entire length. The Mississippi is more than four miles wide at Lake Onalaska, which has been made by a dam that holds back water from both the Mississippi and the Black Rivers near LaCrosse, Wisconsin. Historically, the widest part of the Mississippi is Lake Pepin. More than two miles wide, twenty miles long and 10,500 years old,

Depth: At its headwaters, the Mississippi is less than 3 feet deep. The river's deepest section is between Governor Nicholls Wharf and Algiers Point in New Orleans where it is 200 feet deep.

Elevation: The elevation of the Mississippi at Lake Itasca is 1,475 feet above sea level. It drops to 0 feet above sea level at the Gulf of Mexico. More than half of that drop in elevation occurs within the state of Minnesota.

Wildlife: The Mississippi River and its floodplain are home to a diverse population of living things. At least 260 species of fishes, 25% of all fish species in North America. Forty percent of the nation's migratory waterfowl use the river corridor during their Spring and Fall migration. Sixty percent of all North American birds (326 species) use the Mississippi River Basin as their migratory flyway. From Cairo, Il, upstream to Lake Itasca, there are 38 documented species of mussel. On the Lower Mississippi, there may be as many as 60 separate species of mussels. The Upper Mississippi is host to more than 50 species of mammals. At least 145 species of amphibians and reptiles inhabit the Upper Mississippi River environs.

Volume: The flow of the river is measured in CFS, which is(cubic feet per second. At Lake Itasca, the average flow rate is 6 cubic feet per second. At Upper St. Anthony's Falls, the northernmost Lock and Dam, the average flow rate is 12,000 cubic ft/second. At New Orleans, the average flow rate is 600,000 cubic feet per second.

There are 7.489 gallons of water in a cubic foot. One cubic foot of water weighs 62.4 pounds. A 48 foot semi-truck trailer is a 3,600 cu. ft. container. At Itasca, it would take 10 minutes for one semi-trailer of water to flow out of the lake into the Mississippi. At St. Anthony Falls, the equivalent of 3 semi-trailers full of water go over the falls every second. At New Orleans, the equivalent of 166 semi-trailers of water flow past Algiers Point each second.

Sediment Load: The Mississippi carries an average of 436,000 tons of sediment each day. Over the course of a year, it moves an average of 159 million tons of sediment. Averages have ranged from 1,576,000 tons per day in 1951 to 219,000 in 1988.

Commerce: For nearly 200 years agriculture has been the primary user of the basin lands, continually altering the hydrologic cycle and energy budget of the region. The value of the agricultural products and the huge agribusiness industry that has developed in the basin produces 92% of the nation's agricultural exports, 78% of the world's exports in feed grains and soybeans, and most of the livestock and hogs produced nationally. Sixty percent of all grain exported from the US is shipped via the Mississippi River through the Port of New Orleans and the Port of South Louisiana. In measure of tonnage, the largest port in the world is located on the Mississippi River at LaPlace, La. Between the two of them, the Ports of New Orleans and South Louisiana shipped more than 286 millions tons of goods in 2001. Shipping at the lower end of the Mississippi is focused on petroleum and petroleum products, iron and steel, grain, rubber, paper and wood, coffee, coal, chemicals, and edible oils.

To move goods up and down the Mississippi, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers maintains a 9-foot shipping channel from Baton Rouge, La to Minneapolis, Mn. From Baton Rouge past New Orleans to Head of Passes, a 45 foot channel is maintained to allow ocean-going vessels access to ports between New Orleans and Baton Rouge.

This information about the river is courtesy of

The Lake Itasca Region of Minnesota is a unique area with over 300 lakes in Hubbard County alone, several large forest areas, and a rural setting. However, it faces some critical environmental issues that affect the water quality of its lakes.

The spread of exotic, non-native species of plants and animals threatens the areas lakes.  Aquatic invasive species, such as Eurasian water milfoil, curly leaf pondweed, and zebra mussels, have found their way into hundreds of Minnesota lakes.  With the large number of watercraft transported throughout the state, these "hitchhikers" threaten the regions lakes by clogging up waterways with excessive growth and preventing native plants from thriving.  

Public education, state laws, and prevention/eradication techniques are being used to control the spread. Introduction of an aquatic invasive species has significant economic and environmental consequences to a lake and the region. Several lake associations in the region have stepped up efforts to educate lake users and to conduct watercraft inspections at boat launch areas to detect these hitchhikers.  The key to controlling the spread is public awareness and individual concern and appropriate action taken to remove vegetation when transporting watercraft between lakes.

Another environmental issue for the region's lakes is water quality and habitat loss due to increased development of lakeshore property. Water quality is muddied by the loss of in-water vegetation, removal of shore land vegetation buffer zones, and clearing of trees from shore land property.  All of these actions allow water run-off and erosion of shoreline soil.  State rules and local county ordinances on shore land alterations are being tightened to protect the ambience and habitat of the regions shore lands.  The water quality in the lakes can improve.  Once again, public awareness and individual actions on good shore land "management practices" is the key to preserving the regions water resource heritage.  Don't use poisons on your shore land or water vegetation and try to leave shore land as natural as possible to allow for animal habitat.

The Hubbard County Coalition of Lake Associations (COLA) representing over 2000 lake property owners is actively involved in education, water quality improvement, and lakeshore ordinance compliance initiatives. If interested in learning more about COLA or the regions environmental efforts, contact COLA at PO Box 746, Park Rapids, MN, 56470

-written by Ken Grob


One River Mississippi

















Itasca : Environmental Issues
June 24