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So What ARE the Most Important Issues Facing the Mississippi River?

Ships Passing in the Mississippi River GorgeI was talking with a colleague yesterday and she asked me, “Quickly, off the top of your head, what are the three most important issues facing the Mississippi River?”

Uncharacteristically, I was stumped.  After fumbling around for a while (and thinking that I really need to step back and see the river as well as the individual drops I study), I came up with this list:

  • learning to “see” the river as part of a system that has particular physical and biological properties/characteristics, as well as a very particular human history;
  • reducing or eliminating the pollutants in the water so that it can become both fishable and swimmable;
  • aligning current land uses in the river corridor so that the river’s health is enhanced.

So this was my fumbling response, which upon reflection I realized speak to my work at a university, with river advocacy and policy folks, and with river communities.

My question for you: what would YOU say are the three most important issues facing the Mississippi River?  Send us a note, comment on the blog, reply however you wish; this is interesting and important!


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  1. GregOctober 23, 2013 at 10:01 am

    For the public, I would say this:
    1) Too much sediment and pollution running off farm fields and into the river and its tributaries
    2) The potential for Asian carp ruining it for recreational boating and fishing
    3) Increasing droughts making it impassable for barges and other boats

  2. Andy WeissOctober 23, 2013 at 2:20 pm

    Patrick, I am planning on doing a research project on the ecological history of the Upper Mississippi river and the effects of lock and dams on the rivers enviornment. I find the three points that you outlined to be interesting for me to do some further research. I was wondering if you have any accsess to relevant sources related the points you mentioned.

    Thank you!

  3. Patrick NunnallyOctober 23, 2013 at 2:46 pmAuthor

    Andy, the place to start is probably John Anfinson’s Book _The River We Have Wrought_ which details the campaigns to manage the river for navigation that resulted in the nine foot channel and locks and dams. Another important study is _Ecological Status and Trends of the Upper Mississippi River System_ a 1998 report by the US Geological Survey and the Corps of Engineers. There’s a lot more, so contact me directly at for additional leads.

  4. Greg GenzNovember 12, 2013 at 2:59 pm

    Too much water is disrupting everything. We wouldn’t have this massive movement of sediment and the pollutants that attach to it, We have turned the Rivers into the end conduits for excess water. The River doesn’t care where the water comes from. Blame a farmer if you want, but remember there is at least some percolation before it hits drain tile. River Hills Mall and the associated urban development in East Mankato allows no such percolation for water heading to the MN River. Everyone, whether rural, exurban, suburban, or city residents, need to pay attention to where rain ends up in their backyard. Only then, will our Rivers and aquifers begin to recover.

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A joint project of River Life, the Institute for Advanced Study, and the University of Minnesota Libraries, Open Rivers is an interdisciplinary online journal that recognizes the Mississippi River as a space for timely and critical conversations about people, community, water, and place.