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 14 indicators that illustrate the condition of the river.

The Mississippi River is a complex natural system, with many factors affecting its overall health and vitality. While some aspects of the metro river have improved over time, other indicators of water quality and river health are cause for concern.

  • The river is once again home to healthy bald eagle, mussel, and fish populations. As pollution has been cleaned up and habitat restored, wildlife has rebounded. These are symbols of our shared ability to rejuvenate the Mississippi River, and are an inspiration for future success.
  • While the river meets standards for pesticides and chloride, vigilance is required to minimize the potential impacts of these pollutants over time.
  • Several indicators are cause for concern. The river is impaired by excess sediment, bacteria and phosphorus, degrading aquatic habitat and recreation. Fish consumption guidelines are in place throughout the river due to elevated levels of contaminants like PFOS and mercury. While we remain optimistic, it is clear that much more work remains to resolve these problems.
  • Other indicators are cause for alarm. River flows have multiplied to worrisome levels, destabilizing the river system and delivering large amounts of pollution. Nitrate concentrations have increased substantially. Invasive Asian carp continue to move upstream, with potentially devastating consequences to aquatic life and recreation. The solutions to these problems require new tools and determined public action before they move beyond our reach.
  • Microplastic fibers, pharmaceuticals and triclosan-derived dioxins in the metro river pose uncertain risks to aquatic life and health. Additional research and collective action are required to mitigate their potential long-term impacts.

While the challenges we face are complex and daunting, the river today is healthier thanks to the actions of previous generations. The return of abundant wildlife to a once-troubled river is evidence that restoring the Mississippi is possible through shared commitment and decisive public action. We remain hopeful that with strong leadership and vocal support from river lovers across our state and nation, we too 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 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 Friends of the Mississippi River’s State of the River Report Policy Guide. Parents and educators can help pass the lessons of this report on to the next generation of river stewards through our State of the River Report Teacher’s Guide.