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Upper Mississippi River

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Upper Mississippi River

Upper Mississippi River
The Upper Mississippi River near Harpers Ferry, Iowa
Origin Lake Itasca, Minnesota
Mouth Cairo, Illinois (flows into Lower Mississippi River)
Basin countries US, Canada
Length 2000 km (1250 mi)
Source elevation 450 m (1475 ft)[1]
Avg. discharge 5796 m³/s (204,800 ft³/s)[2]
Basin area 490,000 km² (189,000 mi²)[3]

The Upper Mississippi River is the portion of the Mississippi River upstream of Cairo, Illinois, United States. From the headwaters at Lake Itasca, Minnesota, the river flows approximately 2000 kilometers (1250 mi) to Cairo, where it is joined by the Ohio River to form the Lower Mississippi River.[4][5]


  • History 1
  • Characteristics 2
  • Ecology 3
  • Navigation 4
    • List of pools and locks 4.1
  • See also 5
  • References 6
  • External links 7


In terms of geologic and hydrographic history, the Upper Mississippi is a portion of the now-extinct Glacial River Warren which carved the valley of the Minnesota River, permitting the immense Glacial Lake Agassiz to join the world's oceans at the Gulf of Mexico. The collapse of ice dams holding back Glacial Lake Duluth and Glacial Lake Grantsburg carved out the Dalles of the Saint Croix River. "The Upper Mississippi River valley likely originated as an ice-marginal stream during what had been referred to as the “Nebraskan” glaciation. Current terminology would place this as Pre-Illinoian Stage.[6][7]

The Driftless Area is a portion of North America left unglaciated at that ice age's height, hence not smoothed out or covered over by previous geological processes.

Inasmuch as the Wisconsin glaciation formed lobes that met (and blocked) where the Mississippi now flows, and given that huge amounts of glacial meltwater were flowing into the Driftless Area, and that there is no lakebed, it is assumed that there were instances of ice dams bursting. Considering the history of Glacial Lake Missoula, something like this is believed to have happened.


The Upper Mississippi from below Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa, along with the federal government, have preserved certain areas of the land along this reach of the river.

There are three National Park Service sites along the Upper Mississippi River. The Mississippi National River and Recreation Area is the National Park Service site dedicated to protecting and interpreting the Mississippi River itself. The other two National Park Service sites along the river are: Effigy Mounds National Monument and the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial (the Gateway Arch in St. Louis).

The Upper Mississippi River Valley upstream from Prairie du Chien, WI.

Unlike the Lower Mississippi, much of the upper river is a series of pools created by a system of 29 locks and dams. The structures were authorized by Congress in the 1930s, and most were completed by 1940.[8] A primary reason for damming the river is to facilitate barge transportation. The dams regulate water levels for the Upper River, and play a major part in regulating levels on the Lower Mississippi.


On the upper reaches near the Minnesota-Wisconsin border, the river's floodplain is between 1.5 and 5 kilometers (between 1 and 3 mi) wide. South of St. Louis, Missouri, the alluvial floodplain is approximately 80 kilometers (50 mi) wide. Major tributaries to the Upper Mississippi River include the Missouri, Illinois, Minnesota, St. Croix, Black, and Kaskaskia Rivers.[9]

The Upper Mississippi provides habitat for more than 125 fish species and 30 species of freshwater mussels. Three national wildlife refuges along the river cover a total of 465 square kilometers (285,000 ac). The largest of them, the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge, is over 420 kilometers (260 mi) long, reaching from the Alma, Wisconsin area down to Rock Island, Illinois. The refuge consists of blufflands, marshes, bottom-land forest, islands, channels, backwater lakes and sloughs.[9][10] It is part of the Mississippi Flyway.

Although the river is much “cleaner” than it was in recent decades, water quality is still a priority concern. Agricultural runoff, including sediment, excessive nutrients, (particularly nitrogen and phosphorus), and chemicals from agricultural and industrial sources continue to threaten Upper Mississippi River aquatic resources.In addition new threats continue to emerge such as personal care items including pharmaceuticals and endocrine disrupting chemicals. The five states bordering the Upper Mississippi River are working together to address water quality issues.[11][12][13]

There is general agreement that nutrients are contributing to the Gulf Hypoxia and eutrophication problems in Lake Pepin, a large natural riverine lake that is part of Pool 4 of the Upper Mississippi River. National and regional efforts are addressing these problems but nutrient impairment problems are occurring elsewhere in the Upper Mississippi River as well, particularly in off channel portions. Excessive nutrients contribute to thick floating mats of filamentous algae or duckweeds which have a pronounced negative impact on light penetration and may threaten the growth and persistence of submersed aquatic vegetation that is important for fish and aquatic life including waterfowl. Efforts to control nutrients from point and non point sources in the basin will provide additional benefits.[14]


The inland and intercoastal waterways, with the Upper Mississippi highlighted in red.
Coon Rapids Dam
Head of Navigation: Coon Rapids Dam

Navigation locks allow towboats, barges, and other vessels to transit the dams. Approximately 1350 kilometers (850 mi), from the head of navigation in Mile 858, Minneapolis, Minnesota down to Cairo, has been made suitable for commercial navigation with a depth of 2.75 meters (9 ft).[9] The agriculture and barge transportation industries have lobbied in the late 20th and early 21st centuries for a multi-billion dollar project to upgrade the aging lock and dam system. Some environmental groups and advocates of budgetary restraint argue that the project lacks economic justification.[15]

Each lock & dam complex creates a pool upstream of it. There are 29 locks on the Upper Mississippi maintained by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers—from Upper St. Anthony Falls upstream to Chain of Rocks downstream. The locks provide a collective 123 meters (404 ft) of lift.[16] Note that there is a Lock 5 as well as a Lock 5A. Note also that there is no Lock 23.[17]

List of pools and locks

Pool Locality Lock Mile marker (km) Distance (km)
USAF Pool Minneapolis MN Upper St. Anthony Falls Lock 854 1375    
LSAF Pool Minneapolis MN Lower St. Anthony Falls Lock 853 1373 1 2
Pool 1 Minneapolis MN Lock 1 848 1365 5 8
Pool 2 Hastings MN Lock 2 815 1312 33 53
Pool 3 Welch MN Lock 3 797 1283 18 29
Pool 4 Alma WI Lock 4 753 1212 44 71
Pool 5 Minnesota City MN Lock 5 738 1188 15 24
Pool 5A Fountain City WI Lock 5A 728 1172 10 16
Pool 6 Trempealeau WI Lock 6 714 1150 14 23
Pool 7 La Crescent MN Lock 7 703 1132 11 18
Pool 8 Genoa WI Lock 8 679 1093 24 39
Pool 9 Eastman WI Lock 9 648 1043 31 50
Pool 10 Guttenberg IA Lock 10 615 990 33 53
Pool 11 Dubuque IA Lock 11 583 939 32 52
Pool 12 Bellevue IA Lock 12 557 897 26 42
Pool 13 Clinton IA Lock 13 522 840 35 56
Pool 14 LeClaire IA Lock 14 493 794 29 47
Pool 15 Rock Island IL Lock 15 483 778 10 16
Pool 16 Illinois City IL Lock 16 457 736 26 42
Pool 17 New Boston IL Lock 17 437 704 20 32
Pool 18 Gladstone IL Lock 18 410 660 27 43
Pool 19 Keokuk IA Lock 19 364 586 46 74
Pool 20 Canton MO Lock 20 343 552 21 34
Pool 21 Quincy IL Lock 21 325 523 18 29
Pool 22 New London MO Lock 22 301 485 24 39
Pool 24 Clarksville MO Lock 24 273 440 28 45
Pool 25 Winfield MO Lock 25 241 388 32 52
Mel Price Pool East Alton IL Melvin Price Lock 201 324 40 64
Pool 27 Granite City IL Lock 27 185 298 16 26

See also


  1. ^ "General Information about the Mississippi River". U.S. National Park Service. Retrieved 2006-04-01. 
  2. ^ "Background on Upper Mississippi River Basin". EPA: Mississippi River Basin & Gulf of Mexico Hypoxia. Retrieved 2006-04-01. 
  3. ^ "River and Basin Facts". Upper Mississippi River Basin Association. Retrieved 2009-04-07. 
  4. ^ "Old Man River: History along the Mississippi". Herbert Hoover Presidential Library. Archived from the original on 2006-01-04. Retrieved 2006-03-12. 
  5. ^ "Upper Mississippi River Region". Rock Island District Engineers. Retrieved 2006-03-12. 
  6. ^ Hallberg, G.R., 1986, Pre-Wisconsin glacial stratigraphy of the Central Plains region in Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas, and Missouri. Quaternary Science Reviews. vol. 5, pp. 11-15.
  7. ^ Richmond, G.M. and D.S. Fullerton, 1986, Summation of Quaternary glaciations in the United States of America, Quaternary Science Reviews. vol. 5, pp. 183-196.
  8. ^ "About the Upper Mississippi River System". USGS Upper Midwest Environmental Sciences Center. Retrieved 2006-03-13. 
  9. ^ a b c "Basin Facts". Upper Mississippi River Basin Association. Retrieved 2006-04-01. 
  10. ^ "About the refuges". Friends of the Upper Mississippi River Refuges. Retrieved 2006-04-01. 
  11. ^ "Issues and Challenges- Water Quality". Upper Mississippi River Conservation Committee. Archived from the original on 2007-10-15. Retrieved 2008-04-11. 
  12. ^ "2007 Water Quality Program Report- Protecting Water Quality through Interstate Cooperation". Upper Mississippi River Basin Association. Retrieved 2008-04-11. 
  13. ^ "Upper Mississippi River Nutrient Monitoring, Occurrence, and Local Impacts: A Clean Water Act Perspective". Upper Mississippi River Basin Association. Retrieved 2012-03-21. 
  14. ^ "Nutrient Impairment Identification in the Upper Mississippi River". Mississippi River Basin Nutrients Science Workshop, October 4–6, 2005. Retrieved 2008-04-11. 
  15. ^ Marcia Zarley Taylor (8 March 2006). "River debate continues". AgWeb. Retrieved 2006-03-13. 
  16. ^ "U.S. Waterway System Facts, December 2005" (PDF). USACE Navigation Data Center. Retrieved 2006-04-27. 
  17. ^ "Operation & Maintenance of Navigation Installations (OMNI) Reports". Rock Island District Engineers. Retrieved 2006-04-27. 

External links

  • Upper Mississippi Valley photo archive, a collection of images of the Mississippi Valley along the Iowa/Illinois border, from the 1860s through the 1950s. Images are from regional library special collections.
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