Executive Summary

How is the Mississippi River? Can I swim in it? Is water pollution improving? Can I eat the fish I catch? What can we do about Asian carp? Do I need to be concerned about bacteria in the river?

The State of the River Report — developed in partnership with Friends of the Mississippi River and the National Park Service’s Mississippi National River and Recreation Area — assembles and analyzes a wealth of data, and communicates in plain terms how the river is doing in order to answer these frequently-posed questions. The State of the River Report describes 13 indicators that illustrate the condition of the river.

So, how is the Mississippi River? It’s a river that has improved in both water quality and ecological health over time, but there are also some distressing trends and emerging concerns.

  • Positive trends in our bald eagle, mussel, and fish populations are signs of a restored river that is once again home to healthy and abundant wildlife. As pollution has been cleaned up and habitat restored over the past 40 years, bald eagles, mussels, and fish populations have rebounded. Wildlife like these are symbols of our shared ability to rejuvenate and restore our Mississippi River – and are an inspiration for future success.
  • Other indicators remain causes for concern. Excess sediment and phosphorus can compromise aquatic habitat and recreation in the Mississippi River, including downstream in Lake Pepin. Some portions of the river are impaired with excess bacteria, while site-specific fish consumption guidelines are in place throughout the river due to elevated levels of PFOS, mercury, and PCBs. While we remain optimistic that these issues can be solved, it is clear that much more work remains to prevent these indicators from becoming larger problems.
  • Several indicators are cause for serious concern moving forward. River flows have multiplied to worrisome levels, destabilizing the watershed and flushing large amounts of pollution into the river. Nitrate concentrations are increasing at an alarming rate, with serious impacts on the Gulf of Mexico. Asian carp continue to move upstream, with potentially devastating consequences to aquatic life and recreation throughout the state. And emerging contaminants, like triclosan, PAH compounds, and others, present potential risks to the river that we do not yet fully understand. The solutions to these problems require new tools and decisive public action before they move beyond our reach.

While the challenges facing the river are complex and daunting, it is clear that this is a resource worthy of restoration. And history shows that restoration efforts can be successful: 40 years after the passage of the Clean Water Act, 24 years after the river became a national park, and 19 years after concerned citizens formed Friends of the Mississippi River, we have made great strides in protecting and preserving this unique natural resource.

We remain hopeful that with strong leadership and vocal support from river lovers across our state and nation, we can pass a cleaner, healthier and more vibrant Mississippi River on to future generations. To learn more about what you can do in your home, yard, and community to help protect the Mississippi River, consult the State of the River Report Stewardship Guide. You can also learn more about priority actions that federal, state, and local leaders can take for the river in the State of the River Report Policy Guide.