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home : environment : environment May 26, 2016

9/27/2012 3:24:00 PM
Inaugural State of the River Report Reveals Progress, Cause for Alarm on the Mississippi

MINNEAPOLIS (Sept. 27, 2012) Forty years after the passage of the Clean Water Act, a new landmark report on the health of the Mississippi River shows that progress has been made, but there is cause for serious concern as new issues emerge.

The report, which was just released by the Friends of the Mississippi River and the National Park Service, examines the status and trends of 13 key indicators of the river's health and water quality, including bacteria, phosphorus, nitrate and sediment content, as well as the river's viability for recreation, fish and wildlife.

"The Mississippi River is a complex natural system, with many factors affecting its overall health and vitality," said Whitney Clark, executive director of the Friends of the Mississippi River. "This new report provides an important benchmark as we try to determine how the river is doing compared to the past, and which efforts have been effective at improving its health and water quality. In short, the report reveals that there has been a great deal of progress, but that there are areas of concern - and even alarm - due to man-made landscape changes and the introduction of pollutants and invasive species the system."

Among the positive trends, bald eagle, mussel and fish populations are increasing, which are signs of a restored river that is home to healthy and abundant wildlife. On the other hand, recreation and aquatic habitat on the river faces being degraded by excess sediment and phosphorus, and some portions of the river are impaired with excess bacteria. In addition, site-specific fish consumption guidelines are in place throughout the river due to elevated levels of mercury, PCBs, and the chemical compound PFOS.

Several indicators, however, show disturbing trends and are causes for serious concern, according to the scientific advisors who helped compile the report:

1. Flows (the amount of water in the river) have increased dramatically, destabilizing the watershed and flushing large amounts of pollution into the river.

2. Nitrate concentrations are increasing at an alarming rate, with serious impacts on the Gulf of Mexico.

3. Asian carp continue to move upstream, with potentially disastrous consequences for aquatic life and recreation throughout the state.

4. And a number of additional contaminants, such as triclosan and pharmaceuticals, present risks to the river that, while not yet fully understood, are cause for concern due to their potential impacts on human and aquatic health.

"The solutions to these problems will require new tools and decisive public action before they move beyond our reach," said Paul Labovitz, Superintendent, National Park Service, Mississippi National River and Recreation Area. "We hope this report will help people better understand the challenges our community faces in trying to preserve and improve the river, and we also want to provide strategies for doing so."

Two companion guides have been published with the report, 1) a Stewardship Guide that provides practical steps for individuals to take in their homes, yards and communities to improve the health of the Mississippi River, and 2) a Policy Guide offers priority actions that federal, state and local leaders can take for the river. The State of the River Report and both companion guides are available at

The State of the River Report was funded, in part, by the McKnight Foundation, the Minnehaha Creek Watershed District, and the Capitol Region Watershed District.

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