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World Water Issues are Mississippi River Issues

January 21, 2010Patrick NunnallyRiversComments Off on World Water Issues are Mississippi River Issues

When you stand on the banks of the Mississippi River in the Twin Cities, particularly in the spring with snowmelt swelling the stream, it looks like a big river.  At St. Anthony Falls, the river flow averages 12,000 cubic feet per second (cfs), or almost 90,000 gallons per second.  In New Orleans, by contrast, the river is 50 times as big, averaging some 600,000 cfs.  According to Wikipedia’s article on the Mississippi River (forgive me, all of my research methods teachers!!) the outflow of the Mississippi is only around 9% that of the Amazon.

Now THAT’s a lot of water!

But according to the most recent edition of the World Savvy Monitor rivers only make up 2% of the globe’s fresh surface water, with lakes comprising the vast bulk of the rest.

So that means that Mississippi River cities such as Minneapolis, New Orleans, and all points in between have an adequate water supply, right?  Well, yes and no.

According to panelists at the community panel “Perspectives on Water in Our Changing World,” the question of “adequate” water supply is complicated, and will only grow more complex over time.

The panel was put on by World Savvy, a national nonprofit that specializes in programs that encourage school-age children to “think beyond your borders” and become aware of their connection to global issues.  Water is their most recent focus; hence the community panel, co sponsored with the University of Minnesota’s Water Resources CenterBreck School, the Freshwater Society, and Minnesota Public Radio.

 So what are some lessons for the Mississippi that can be learned from an understanding of global water issues?  Space does not permit a full discussion of the very interesting and informative panel, but important points included these:
  • Mark Seeley, Minnesota’s State Climatologist, expects that trends in climate change will continue to concentrate rainfall in heavier storms, which occur at seasons that are historically unusual.  That is, a thunderstorm that brings over 2 inches of rain to a town in the Mississippi valley will wash unusually heavy sediment loads into the river and its tributaries if the storm happens in the fall, when the ground has been cleared of crops.
  • According to Deb Swackhamer, connections are the key, between what happens to the land in terms of urbanization and changes in land use and their impact on streams and in terms of the connections, poorly understood in detail, between ground water and surface water.
  • Joan Nephew suggested that a primary need is a cultural shift, analogous to the growth of recycling.  Just as it has become second nature to separate bottles, cans, and paper from trash, and there are substantial industries devoted to recycling used materials into new uses, so we will need to begin thinking and practicing wide scale recycling of water, and reusing, for example, dishwater.

Rivers connect us to each other; we all live downstream of some people and upstream of others.  On the Mississippi, the fifth largest river in the world, our water is connected to all the other water on the planet.

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