On Earth Day, a consideration of how the Mississippi River is changing | St. Louis Public Radio

On Earth Day, a consideration of how the Mississippi River is changing

Apr 22, 2016

Every April 22nd, Earth Day encourages people to consider what’s best for the environment. Started in 1970 by a U.S. senator from Wisconsin, Earth Day has evolved in its consideration of how to combat the troubling effects of climate change.

Climate change is just one of the many factors that affects the sustainability and economic viability of the Mississippi River.

The Mississippi is made up of over 2,500 miles of waterway that winds its way through 10 states. It generates $400 billion in revenue each year and directly supports 1.3 million American jobs (indirect support is, obviously, much larger). It is also a drinking water source for over 50 cities, supplying 20 million people with fresh drinking water.

In the St. Louis area, it provides billions of dollars in revenue and generates tens of thousands of jobs as well as 150 million gallons of water per day for drinking water. It is a large shipping conduit and an environmental stabilizer for the region, keeping the region ecological diverse and healthy.

Collin Wellenkamp discusses the Mississippi River's importance.
Credit Kelly Moffitt | St. Louis Public Radio

St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh spoke with Colin Wellenkamp, the executive director of the Mississippi River Cities & Towns Initiative, a coalition of mayors along the river, about how the Mississippi River water system is currently used and how it is changing.

Wellenkamp says that the health of the river depends on where you’re standing. In the North, before chemical and natural pollutants enter the river water as it flows down to the Gulf of Mexico, the river is much healthier.

“It is getting better, but we’ve got a long way to go,” Wellenkamp said. “I would think one of the biggest changes between 2012 and today is the level of consciousness about the Mississippi. Mayor Slay likes to say ‘We’re no longer likely to turn our back on the river, we’re now turning toward it.’ That’s changing. It is a critical component to our quality of life in our region.”

Typically, water pollution is measured with thirteen indicators: toxins (PCBs, industrial pollutants, raw sewage), organic pollutants (herbicides, pesticides), nutrient loading (runoff).

“The mayors of the Mississippi River saw benign neglect with the river,” said Wellenkamp. “The Great Lakes went through the same thing and the Florida Everglades and Chesapeake Bay…but people got together and started protecting these resources.”

Listen to Wellenkamp discuss the efforts underway to clean and protect the Mississippi River:

St. Louis on the Air brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh and producers Mary Edwards, Alex Heuer and Kelly Moffitt give you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse and vibrant St. Louis region.