Mississippi River Pollution

This is an older version of Mississippi River Pollution in need of an update.

Starting in Minnesota and winding its way to the Gulf of Mexico, the Mississippi River is a major economic and natural resource for the heartland of the United States.

Its importance in American life is reflected in the consistent amount of research about various aspects of the river that is published on an annual basis. This review examines research on Mississippi River pollution in terms of four major water pollution topics: toxic pollution; sediment pollution; nutrient pollution; and bacterial pollution.

From an historical perspective,Mississippi River pollution can be traced to population growth along its boundaries. The United States Geological Survey released a report in the 1990s that provided comprehensive coverage of the organic and inorganic toxins in the Mississippi River. Referring to the heavy metals, they stated,

as the valleys of the Mississippi River and its tributaries were settled and industrialized, the metals added by human activities have affected the water quality of the Mississippi River and ultimately the Gulf of Mexico. Some of these metals are essential for proper metabolism in all living organisms yet toxic at high concentrations; other metals currently thought of as non-essential are toxic even at relatively low concentrations.

The most recent reviews of pollution problems link current agricultural practices with the most severe problems. Nutrient pollution caused by agricultural runoff is cited as the most pressing pollution problem. The The Mississippi River/Gulf of Mexico Watershed Nutrient Task Force consisting of five federal agencies and ten state agencies, was created in 1997 to deal with the problem. According to their most recent report:

The 2014 area of low oxygen, commonly known as the ‘Dead Zone,’ measured 13,080 square kilometers (= 5,052 square miles) as of Aug 1, 2014. This size fell within the predicted range made in June described below. The 2014 dead zone size is below the five-year average (14,353 sq km), but still well above the Hypoxia Task Force goal of 5,000 square kilometers.

Bacterial pollution, especially the presence of E. coli, which is linked to both current sewage treatment facilities and the runoff that contains livestock manure, also makes large stretches of the Mississippi River a no swim zone.

The National Academy of Science also recently released a report covering Mississippi River Water Quality and the Clean Water Act that outlined water pollution problems associated with agriculture practices. They suggest the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) take a lead role to coordinate more effective clean up action among the primary stakeholders, specifically the border states.

Finally, another recent report entitled Review of Sedimentation Issues on the Mississippi River states

Problems like upland erosion, chemical leaks and spills, and other types of pollution have been prevalent throughout the basin and have been amplified by pollutant/sediment transport, creating environmental problems for humans, wildlife, and especially aquatic life. Several revetments have been implemented with the intent of mitigating these problems. The success of the revetments has generally been initially successful; however, subsequent processes, like aggradation and degradation, have been resultants of these revetments over time.

Note: The report for UNESCO was an active link a week back. Since then, Google reports that the site has safety issues so the link was removed.