5 Facts You Might Not Know About The Mississippi River

 In Culture, Guide

While most St. Louisans and Midwesterners aren’t braggarts about the largest body of water nearby, there’s reason for that to change. The Mississippi River is an extraordinary, fascinating natural resource, providing its watershed with vast economic, environmental and cultural benefits. Keep reading to learn more.

It’s Probably Where You Get At Least Some Of Your Drinking Water 
According to the Mississippi River Cities and Towns Initiative, 20 million people residing in 50 cities get their drinking water from the Mississippi River—after a rigorous treatment process, of course. One of the largest threats to the river’s water pollution is nutrient loading from large-scale agriculture, in which farmers use toxic chemicals and fertilizers. Rainwater washes off those contaminants, which drain right into the river. Scientists agree this is the cause of the massive Dead Zone in the Gulf of Mexico, where the Mississippi River drains.

mississippi river water st louis alive magazine travel

Photo courtesy of Jorie Jacobi.

It’s Humongous, And Also Tiny
At the river’s origin it ranges between 20 and 30 feet wide, but at its widest, the river extends over 11 miles across at Lake Winnibigoshish near Bena, Minnesota.

It Moves … But Not How You Might Think
Yes, it flows from Lake Itasca in Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico, but rivers actually move laterally through a process known as river channel migration. This is one of the many reasons communities formed along riverbanks are so susceptible to flooding and damage: because as the river evolves, it can actually carve new channels that flow on top of those cities, changing its trajectory.

mississippi river water st louis alive magazine travel

Photo courtesy of Jorie Jacobi.

Levees, Locks And Dams Likely Do More Harm Than Good 
Most flood-prone municipalities resort to building levees, locks and dams, but in doing so often create additional flooding problems for municipalities downstream. When a river is connected to its floodplain it can ebb and flow naturally, but the river has largely been channelized to accommodate the flow of barge traffic. St. Louis-based environmentalist Brad Walker of the Missouri Coalition for the Environment was featured in an excellent segment on The Daily Show with Trevor Noah, which breaks down the basics of the issue.

It Is An Endless Source Of Creative Inspiration
Paintings, drawings, books, poems, songs and more have been inspired by the Mississippi River, from Mark Twain’s infamous memoir, “Life on the Mississippi,” to the paintings of George Caleb Bingham at the Saint Louis Art Museum, whose depictions of 19th-century life along the river pay homage to its beauty.


Cover photo courtesy of Aidan Formigoni.

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