A very dirty river runs through it

The Mississippi’s locks and dams are holding it back from its true potential.

Leah Lancaster

I caught my first fish three days ago on the East River Flats under the I-94 Dartmouth Bridge. The air reeked of sewage; the water was filled with rotting fish, trash and questionable looking white puddles âÄî but tons of carp were swarming. They were feeding off the white film floating on the surface of the river. Needless to say, no one even considered eating my catch of the day.

Sadly, only 15 percent of the upper Mississippi River is clean enough to eat fish from. Even worse, the whole Twin Cities stretch of the river fails to meet federal water quality standards. ItâÄôs a well-known fact that around the Twin Cities, the Mississippi is âÄî for lack of a better term âÄî disgusting. But the section of the river going through the Twin Cities used to be eight miles of clean, whitewater rapids.

This stretch was transformed in the early 1900s, when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers built the locks and dams that we still use as a source of hydro-electric power and commercial navigation. These locks and dams have inflicted severe damage to the Mississippi River and its many animal inhabitants. The slowing of the water alone has allowed harmful sedimentation buildup, and the dams themselves act as barriers to fish migration routes.

Freshwater mussels âÄî one of the most endangered species in the U.S. âÄî are now even more threatened due to the suffocating effects of sinking sedimentation. All other species suffer from the sluggish pace of the water as well; the white water rapids used to provide a highly oxygenated spawning ground for all aquatic animals. Because of blocked migration routes, fish like the skipjack herring have been nearly eradicated from the river.  
Removing the locks and dams might interrupt some barge traffic, but the positive effects would outweigh the negative. We do not need the locks and dams. What we need is the natural, free-flowing Mississippi River.