[Except where noted, all data are taken from the National Park Service's document entitled "General
Information about the Mississippi River"
and from the video produced by the St. Paul, Minnesota Port Authority entitled
"Mississippi - the Working River".]
At the headwaters of the Mississippi, the average surface speed of the water is near 1.2 miles per hour—roughly
one-third as fast as people walk. At New Orleans the speed of the river is about 3 miles
per hour. A raindrop falling in Lake Itasca would arrive at the Gulf of Mexico in about 90 days.
River length is a difficult
measurement to pin down because the river channel is constantly changing. For
example, staff at Itasca State Park, the Mississippi's headwaters, say the Mississippi
is 2,552 miles long. The US Geologic Survey has published a number of 2,300
miles (3,705 kilometers), the EPA says it is 2,320 miles long, and the Mississippi
National River and Recreation Area maintains its length at 2,350 miles
(or about 4,100 kilometers).
At Lake Itasca, the river is between 20 and 30 feet wide. The Mississippi is widest
just downstream from its confluence with the Missouri River (near Alton, Il.)
where it is nearly 1 mile across.
[Note: In the first mile of the river,
just out from Lake Itasca, there were places where I could touch both banks of the river
with my canoe paddle, certainly less than 20 feet in width -- G.H.]
At its headwaters, the Mississippi is less than 3 feet deep. The river's deepest
section is between Governor Nicholls Wharf and Algiers Point in New Orleans where
it is 200 feet deep.
- At Lake Itasca, the average flow
rate is 6 cubic feet per second.
- At Upper St. Anthony's Falls, the northernmost Lock and Dam, the average flow
rate is 12,000 cubic ft/second.
- At New Orleans, the average flow rate is 600,000 cubic feet per second.
- There are 7.489 gallons of water in a cubic foot. One cubic foot of water weighs
65.4 pounds. A 48 foot semi-truck trailer is a 3,600 cu. ft. container. At Itasca,
it would take 10 minutes for one semi-trailer of water to flow out of the lake
into the Mississippi. At St. Anthony Falls, the equivalent of 3 semi-trailers
full of water go over the falls every second. At New Orleans, the equivalent
of 166 semi-trailers of water flow past Algiers Point each second.
The elevation of the Mississippi
at Lake Itasca is 1,475 feet above sea level. It drops to 0 feet above sea level
at the Gulf of Mexico. More than half of that drop in elevation occurs within
the state of Minnesota.
The Mississippi carries
an average of 436,000 tons of sediment each day. Over the course of a year,
it moves an average of 159 million tons of sediment. Averages have ranged from
1,576,000 tons per day in 1951 to 219,000 in 1988.
The Mississippi River
Basin or Watershed drains 41% of continental United States. Thirty-one states
and two Canadian provinces are included in the watershed. The total area drained
by the watershed is between 1.2 and 1.8 million square miles.
Communities up and down
the river use the Mississippi to obtain fresh water and to discharge their industrial
and municipal waste. We don't have good figures on water use for the whole Mississippi
River Basin, but we have some clues. A January, 2000 study published by the
Upper Mississippi River Conservation Committee states that close to15 million
people rely on the Mississippi River or its tributaries in just the upper half
of the basin (from Cairo, IL to Minneapolis, MN). A frequently cited figure
of 18 million people using the Mississippi River Watershed for water supply
comes from a 1982 study by the Upper Mississippi River Basin Committee. The
Environmental Protection Agency simply says that more than 50 cities rely on
the Mississippi for daily water supply.
Locks and Dams
There are 29 total between Minneapolis and St. Louis. The lower 27 are numbered,
with Lock and Dam Number One by the Ford Bridge between Minneapolis and Saint Paul.
Two more were belatedly added in the 1960s in Downtown Minneapolis.
Since "One" was already assigned, these two became the Upper and Lower
St. Anthony Falls Locks and Dams. The majority of locks are 100 feet wide,
wide enough for double-wide barges. Only the three upper most locks in Minneapolis and
St. Paul are 56 feet wide, room enough only for single-wides.
The need to break down double wide barges is costly and time-consuming.
For nearly 200 years agriculture
has been the primary user of the basin lands, continually altering the hydrologic
cycle and energy budget of the region. The value of the agricultural products
and the huge agribusiness industry that has developed in the basin produces
92% of the nation's agricultural exports, 78% of the world's exports in feed
grains and soybeans, and most of the livestock and hogs produced nationally.
Sixty percent of all grain exported from the US is shipped via the Mississippi
River through the Port of New Orleans and the Port of South Louisiana. In measure
of tonnage, the largest port in the world is located on the Mississippi River
at LaPlace, Louisiana. Between the two of them, the Ports of New Orleans and South
Louisiana shipped more than 243 milliions tons of goods in 1999. Shipping
at the lower end of the Mississippi is focused on petroleum, iron and steel,
grain, rubber, paper and wood, coffee, coal, chemicals, and edible oils.
The Mississippi River and its
floodplain are home to a diverse population of living things:
At least 260 species of fishes, 25% of all
fish species in North America
Forty percent of the nation's migratory waterfowl use the river corridor during
their Spring and Fall migration
Sixty percent of all North American birds (326 species) use the Mississippi
River Basin as their migratory flyway
From Cairo, IL, upstream to Lake Itasca, there are 38 documented species of
mussel. On the Lower Mississippi, there may be as many as 60 separate species
The Upper Mississippi is host to more than 50 species of mammals;
At least 145 species of amphibians and reptiles
inhabit the Upper Mississippi River environs.
River TrafficTo move goods up and down
the Mississippi, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers maintains a 9-foot shipping
channel from Baton Rouge, LA to Minneapolis, MN. From Baton Rouge past New
Orleans to Head of Passes, a 45-foot channel is maintained to allow ocean-going
vessels access to ports as far upstream as Baton Rouge.
On one gallon of fuel, 1 ton of cargo can
be moved 60 miles by truck, 202 miles by rail, and 514 miles by barge.
One barge holds as much as 15 jumbo rail
hoppers and 58 semi truck trailers.
One bargeload of wheat is enough to bake
2.25 million loaves of bread.
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