drinking the mississippi

There was a topic on potable water recently but I wanted to address the Mississippi specifically. A buddy and I are doing the 320 miles from Caruthersville MO to the Greenville bridge and just wondered about drinking the water even if treated,filtered, boiled, whatever. Would you drink from that section of the mississippi or try and carry as much as you could and refill along the way?

It would probably be too muddy. Not to mention all the chemicals in that river due to the boat traffic along with many other things, would be too much to get out of the water. I would suggest trying to plan your trip to stop at public parks where there would be access to clean water.

dont think filtered water removes dioxin and chemical fertilizers

I am no expert but…

– Last Updated: Mar-22-10 10:44 PM EST –

I would not drink the mighty Mississippi.


Looks like those who do, filter it more than you can.

When soil runs off the land, it also sends phosphorus and nitrogen fertilizer into ditches and streams; 6 billion pounds end up in the Mississippi and its tributaries each year. In rivers and reservoirs, these nutrients encourage the growth of algae. When algae die, bacteria feast on them, and they also consume oxygen in the water. The biotic riot sluices down to the Gulf of Mexico, where it has created an oxygen-free "dead zone" that supports no marine life. In the summer of 2007, the zone expanded from 6,000 square miles to 7,500, an area nearly the size of New Jersey.

The nitrogen itself, which converts to nitrate, is also a potential health threat to humans. In babies, nitrate binds to hemoglobin in blood and hinders its ability to deliver oxygen to the brain. In adults, high nitrate levels have been linked with increased risk of hyperthyroidism, birth defects, and miscarriage. To stay under the federal nitrate limit of 10 parts per billion, the city of Des Moines, Iowa, spent $4.5 million on an ion-exchange process that switches nitrate for chloride.

"We run it fifty to a hundred times a year," Randy Beavers, assistant manager of Des Moines Water Works, says. "It costs us $3,000 a day." At peak runoff, the utility just beats the cutoff, bringing levels from as high as 20 ppb down to a yearly average of 9.9 ppb. Iowa communities that drink from shallow wells, and that lack funds for fancy ion-exchange systems, have a tougher time of it. When nitrate levels spike, they issue "blue baby" alerts: kids, step away from that faucet.

The situation is bound to get worse. In 2007, farmers planted 90 million acres of corn, 15 million more than the previous year. More corn means more water contaminants.

I drink the Mississippi whenever I visit
my daughter in New Orleans. But if I were paddling down the river, I would try to replenish my water supply from riverside communities.

I’ve seen a lot of warnings about river water that fail to relate the studies raising concern to the actual risk to consumers. There is no doubt that stuff in river water could be harmful, but often we don’t know at what level harm is likely to occur.

In Atlanta, the Park Service was claiming that the river was “high risk” whenever it was silty or turbid. When I got into the studies and math they used to support their warnings, I found that the hypothetical risk supposedly had risen to 1:100. Just try to do an actual study of human infection where you attempt to detect a 1:100 threshold. Of course they hadn’t done such a study. They were basing river risk on a study of infections on the California coast.

I did the Mississippi . . .
. . . last year and drank river water the whole way. I started out filtering the water with a Katadyn Pocket Filter but that didn’t last long. I treated the water I drank with bleach (4 drops/quart) and did’t do anything but filter the water I cooked with through a piece of old T-shirt to remove a little silt.

The river is remarkably clean. Silt/mud won’t hurt you. I did quite a bit of research. There is much less chemical contamination that the press whould have you believe. Most cities/town along the river take their drinking water from the river and do nothing to remove chemical contamination

I just googled “drinking water pollution in the mississippi” and read the first 10 or so websites…i wouldnt drink that if you paid me…i cant even pronounce most of the chemicals in it. Yeah sure…a filter will get rid of silt and clorine will get ride of giardia, campilobactor and other “bugs” but it sure as heck doesnt remove lindane for gods sake.

Just carry your water…its not a remote wilderness anymore…plenty of sources.

I Googled that . . .
. . . and didn’t find anything specific. Most of the cities and towns along the upper Mississippi take their drinking water from the Mississippi and do nothing to remove chemicals.

I met a couple of guys on my trip that were heading down river, also, on in a canoe one in a kayak. Both were having trouble finding drinking water from easily assessable sources.

Sure there are bad chemicals in rivers.
But at what levels, and where? Something people don’t notice is that certain water professionals, their supervisors, and certain environmental organizations may choose to further their employment and their political interests by scaring the public. As I noted previously, we went through that for the metro Chattahoochee, Atlanta’s water supply. An irrational warning system was run for a time, telling us we shouldn’t paddle the river when it was high and brown. Because the warners weren’t achieving anything positive, they eventually lost their government funding, and were unwilling to go on warning on their own dime. Now we get to use our own judgement, which we were doing all along.

Grew Up on the River
Grew up in Cape Girardeau, just 60 miles or so up river from Caruthersville. Lived 1/4 mile away from the river (except when it was up, then it was literally our back yard). Fished, swam, and accidentally swallowed more than my share. Can’t say that I would do it intentionally, though, unless I didn’t have a choice. It will be so easy to get water and keep a few gallons around, that I’d filter and drink from the old man only if I had to. WW

its only 320 miles
carry your water, or at least a good portion of it, but also pack a filter and two gallon bucket. Let the silt settle out overnight in the bucket before filtering if you have to filter it. Paddletothesea has pretty good points, you should be cautious, but considering that you are not going to be drinking river water for months on end, I doubt the chemicals in it are going to build up in your system enough to be a problem.

Good suggestion to carry the filter
as a backup in case you can’t replenish often enough. However, another thing to keep in mind is that there are lots of tributary streams (and even springs) running into the Mississippi. You won’t know if they are better or worse chemically in many cases, but you might find small clearer-running water from those that you could filter more easily then the siltier water in the main channel itself.

I didn’t . . .
. . . see any.

As noted above
A lot of cities along the way get their water from it. It does go through treatment plants of course. That said, it wouldn’t be my choice. The Mpls water from my tap has a funny odor at the moment. Common in the spring. Also, I’ve paddled it in the Mpls area, and it has a strong odor to me when I’m paddling. Unless I had no other choice I’d pass on it.

I too, have paddled through Mpls.
North of Mpls the water seemed quite clear, good visibility. And the water looked good traveling through the Twin Cities. But my rotomold plastic kayak picked up this brown/black oiley gunk that is a real pain to scrub off. Finaly had to use paint thinner!

Don’t know what it is but sure would’nt drink it or try to filter it out. Even more industry and agricultural runnoff the farther south you go. I carry and refill 2 liter soda bottles (up to about 6) they fit good in a kayak.

You’re only going 320 miles on a populated river. Uniless it’s an emergency, why risk it.

the really sad thing is…
that this has to be discussed at all. The more rivers I go on, the more I see how little people care how much waste ends up in them.

Got that right cap,
It’s better than it was in the past. It’s been a while since a river caught fire.

i had planned on carrying what i needed, but really valued the opinions i knew i would get from you guys and gals. thanks again, i’m sure i’ll have another inane question before the big day gets here(first of sept)