The Mississippi River
The Mississippi River is one of the most iconic waterways in the United States, flowing from the northernmost point of Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico in Louisiana. It spans over 2,300 miles and passes through ten states. The Mississippi River is not just a popular tourist destination, but also an important commercial and transportation route that connects the heartland of the country to the rest of the world.
The Waterway Connected to the Mississippi River
The waterway that the Mississippi River runs through is known as the Mississippi River System. It is a vast network of waterways that includes the Mississippi River, the Missouri River, the Ohio River, and many other tributaries. The Mississippi River System covers over 1.25 million square miles and drains about 40 percent of the continental United States. It is the largest river system in North America and the third-largest in the world, after the Amazon and Congo systems.
Facts and Figures About the Waterway
The Mississippi River System is made up of over 12,000 miles of navigable waterways, including 6,000 miles of the main stem of the Mississippi River. The system has over 250 locks and dams, which provide a way to navigate through the river’s varying water levels. The Mississippi River System also supports a diverse ecosystem of wildlife, including over 250 species of fish and numerous bird species.
The Importance of the Waterway to the Mississippi River
The Mississippi River System plays a crucial role in the function of the Mississippi River. It helps regulate the river’s flow, preventing both floods and droughts, and also provides a way for large cargo ships to transport goods to and from the heartland of the country. The waterway is also important for the production of hydroelectric power and irrigation for agriculture.
The History of the Waterway
The Mississippi River System has played a significant role in the history of the United States. Native Americans used the river for transportation and trade, and European explorers, such as Jacques Marquette and Louis Jolliet, were among the first to travel its length. During the 19th century, the Mississippi River served as a major transportation route for goods such as cotton, tobacco, and sugar, which were shipped from the South to the North and East. Today, the waterway continues to play a vital role in the nation’s economy and transportation infrastructure.
Natural Features of the Waterway
The Mississippi River System is home to a diverse array of natural features, including wetlands, forests, and prairies. The river also has several important habitats for wildlife, such as the Atchafalaya Basin in Louisiana, which is one of the largest swamps in the country and is home to many endangered species.
Human-made Features of the Waterway
Over the years, humans have made several changes to the Mississippi River System, including building levees and dredging channels to improve navigation. The system’s locks and dams were also constructed to regulate the river’s flow and provide a way for ships to navigate the river’s varying water levels.
Commercial Use of the Waterway
The Mississippi River System is vital to the nation’s economy, supporting industries such as agriculture, manufacturing, and energy. The system provides a way for farmers to transport their crops to markets around the world, and the river is also used to transport other goods such as coal, oil, and steel.
Recreational Use of the Waterway
The Mississippi River System is also a popular destination for recreational activities such as fishing, boating, and camping. The river provides opportunities for outdoor enthusiasts to explore its natural beauty, and several towns and cities along the river offer a variety of cultural and historical attractions.
Environmental Concerns of the Waterway
The Mississippi River System faces several environmental challenges, including pollution, habitat loss, and invasive species. Pollution from agricultural runoff and urbanization has led to water quality issues, while habitat loss and fragmentation have negatively impacted many species that rely on the river’s ecosystem.
Conclusion: Understanding the Mississippi River’s Waterway
The Mississippi River System is a vital resource for the United States, playing a key role in the nation’s economy, transportation infrastructure, and natural environment. While the system faces several environmental challenges, efforts are underway to address these issues and ensure the long-term health and sustainability of the river and its surrounding ecosystem.
References and Further Reading
- Mississippi River Commission. "About the Mississippi River System." Accessed July 14, 2021. .
- National Park Service. "Mississippi River." Accessed July 14, 2021. https://www.nps.gov/miss/index.htm.
- U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. "Mississippi River." Accessed July 14, 2021. .