Why is the Mississippi River drying up?

Mississippi River water levels are at their lowest in a decade.

The river is the second largest in the United States and provides drinking water to an estimated 20 million people, but as water levels continue to decline, this integral water source may be at risk.

Particularly low water levels were recorded in Memphis, Tennessee, where levels dropped as low as -6.1 feet as of Nov. 15.

In October, Tower Rock, an island in the middle of the Mississippi River in Missouri, became accessible on foot for the first time in living memory. The water level was so low that people could walk to the island rather than taking a boat as usual.

That’s not the only anomaly that occurs when the river runs dry. The sunken remains of a 19th-century merchant ship, previously covered by the river’s waters, have been discovered in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

Even relics and artifacts from the American Civil War have been discovered on the banks of the river.

Riley Bryant, of Memphis, shared video of him finding Civil War-era bullets and an intact belt buckle from the river.

This combined image shows the result of the drying up of the Mississippi River. Above left, The Diamond Lady, a once stately riverboat, rests with smaller boats in the mud at the Riverside Park Marina in Martin Luther King Jr. Riverside Park in Memphis. An aerial view, top right, shows boats resting in the mud at Martin Luther King Jr. Riverside Park. Below, left, treasure hunters scour the Mississippi River shoreline near Portageville, Missouri, while, below, left, a tugboat pushes barges along the Mississippi River on October 18, 2022 near Ayers, Tennessee.
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Why is the Mississippi River drying up?

Parts of the US have been in the throes of an ongoing mega drought. The Mississippi River is just the latest body of water to be affected by drought conditions.

“About 1/3 of precipitation in the United States ends up in the Mississippi River, and with decreasing precipitation in the Midwest, there’s less water entering the river to begin with,” Alexander Loucopoulos, partner at Sciens Water and president of the Mississippi River Lo said the Cities and Towns Initiative (MRCTI) business advisory board. Newsweek.

Climate change is suspected to be the main reason for the ongoing drought.

But it’s hard to say for sure. Some scientists have noted that the river has actually produced record water flows in previous years, meaning this could only be a one-year problem.

If the water level continues to drop, however, wreck discovery won’t be the only outcome.

“The Mississippi River supplies approximately 20 million people, or 16 percent of the US population, with drinking water. It is also a primary means of transportation, carrying approximately 500 million tons of cargo each year,” Loucopoulos said. “The Mississippi River Basin is home to 57% of US farmland, producing 60% of US grain and 54% of US soybeans. This interconnected network, which extends much further than the Mississippi River Basin alone, will affected by this drought”.

How many states does the Mississippi River cross?

The Mississippi River passes through ten states, namely Minnesota, Wisconsin, Tennessee, Iowa, Illinois, Kentucky, Missouri, Arkansas, Mississippi and Louisiana.

While the river will likely never completely dry due to its size and not all of these states are in severe drought, those that are may see narrower streams as water levels continue to drop, the which in turn will affect the routes of merchant ships.

Loucopoulos said Louisiana, as well as Tennessee, have been particularly hard hit and the results of the drought are already being seen firsthand in these states.

“Louisiana has been affected pretty big, as it sits at the mouth of the river and has experienced firsthand the impacts of saltwater intrusion into the Mississippi River Delta,” he said. “There are already communities that have issued water advisories and are seeking desalination treatments to ensure constant supplies of clean water.”

“In many parts of the river, including Memphis, the Mississippi River has reached record lows,” Loucopoulos said. “At one point there were 2,000 barges stranded due to low water levels. Low water levels mean less drinking water for the 20 million people who depend on the river, problems transporting crops and other goods on the barges along the river and threaten the availability of water for food production in the Basin. It’s an interconnected system, you can’t separate one problem from another.”

What is the source of the Mississippi River?

The main source of the Mississippi River is Lake Itasca, a small glacial lake in Minnesota. From there, the river flows to the Gulf of Mexico. But the effects of the drought could expand well beyond the states through which the river flows.

“In short, if the drought continues, we will face problems providing clean drinking water, producing food, and transporting goods. Costs will rise for everyone, plus those living in the Mississippi River Basin,” Loucopoulos said.

“The Mississippi River is the cheapest way to transport crops across the Midwest, but drought conditions have decreased the number of barges and carried less weight, thereby increasing costs,” he said. “The drought impacts the amount of fresh water available along the entire river and its tributaries, which if prolonged will threaten drinking water supplies and agricultural water availability for every community that depends on the Mississippi River.”

“Saltwater intrusion into the Mississippi River further threatens our drinking water. This drought affects all sectors of society. Health outcomes worsen when access to clean drinking water is limited or disrupted. move their barges and the companies will close”.

How long is the Mississippi River?

In total, the river flows 2,350 miles.

“Since we don’t have the power to control the weather, the best thing to do is plan and prepare for the future,” Loucopoulos said. “Federal drought funding is extremely limited and needs to be matched by private sector investment. The economic impacts of not responding promptly and proactively to this drought could be enormous.

“The number one solution is water reuse, which is essential to continued water security. By being conservative with water use now and building systems that will allow us to operate with less available water in the future, we can be very more resilient in the face of drought”.

The Mississippi River isn’t the only body of water in the United States to be affected by drought. Lake Mead, the largest man-made reservoir in North America, is also drying up due to severe drought conditions.

As the lake dries up, a multitude of discoveries have been made, including clusters of human remains and shipwrecks.

Plus, water levels in Utah’s Great Salt Lake are the lowest they’ve ever been.

Do you have a science story suggestion that should be covered by Newsweek? Have a question about the effects of climate change? Please let us know via science@newsweek.com.

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