Southeastern Fishes Council
Dedicated to the Conservation of Southeastern Fishes

Mississippi River Listed As One Of 10 Most Endangered
April 14, 2004

Release from:
Amy Wold
The Advocate

A national river conservation organization says the Mississippi River is one of "America's Most Endangered Rivers of 2004."

The organization American Rivers lists the Mississippi River as one of 10 most endangered rivers. It bases its determination on the size of the threats to the rivers, upcoming major decisions that will affect those threats and the significance of the rivers.

This is the eighth time the Mississippi River has been listed in American River's annual reports, partly because it's such a large and complicated system, said Kelly Miller, associate director of water resources for the organization.

The Mississippi River drains a large portion of the United States, is important to the shipping industry and provides drinking water from Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico.

"This nomination is really about stepping back and taking a look at the river holistically," Miller said. "It's to raise people's awareness, but at the heart of it, it really is a call to action."

A major factor in including the Mississippi River this year is the long-term decisions that will be made on projects and policies when Congress starts to consider the Water Resources Development Act of 2004 this spring, Miller said. The act sets policy and authorizes money for the Army Corps of Engineers to build new projects, several of which involve the Mississippi River and coastal restoration in Louisiana.

Miller said the report asks Congress and the Army Corps of Engineers to look for a better balance between the navigation and flood control work and efforts to restore ecosystems along the river.

Problems facing the river include flood control levees that alter the river's ecosystem and contribute to the loss of Louisiana wetlands. Other problems include pollution that eventually drains to the Gulf of Mexico and helps form the "dead zone" -- an area of low oxygen that forms in the summer off the coast of Louisiana.

Other problems involving the river include locks and dams on the upper river system that have damaged wetlands and other aspects of the ecosystem, the report says.

Although each segment of the river has specific problems, looking at the entire river gives a better perspective, said Dan McGuiness, director of the Minnesota-based Audubon Upper Mississippi River Campaign.

"Some of the problems on the coast actually originate higher in the basin," he said, referring to fertilizer and other pollution that contributes to the dead zone.

"It's not only a whole river situation, but a whole basin situation," McGuiness said.

The report recommends, for example, that Congress fund the Lower Mississippi River Resources Assessment that will survey the habitat, wildlife and plant life between the two Mississippi River guide levees.

A similar report has been done for the upper river basin.

"It (the report) shows the need for comprehensive restoration for the river from top to bottom," said Doug Daigle, lower basin regional director of the Mississippi River Basin Alliance. "It shows that there has been progress, but there are still significant problems."

The other rivers listed this year are the Colorado River, Big Sunflower River in Mississippi, Snake River located mostly in Idaho, Tennessee River, Allegheny and Monongahela rivers primarily in Pennsylvania, Spokane River in Washington, Housatonic River in Massachusetts and Connecticut, Peace River in Florida and Big Darby Creek in Ohio.