River Citizens -- Little Things Make a Big Difference in Protecting Mighty Waterway -- "The Mississippi Is Well Worth Reading about. It Is Not a Commonplace River, but on the Contrary Is in All Ways Remarkable." Mark Twain, 'Life on the Mississippi'
Devin, Jonathan, The Commercial Appeal (Memphis, TN)
It's one of the longest and most powerful rivers in the world, but when it comes to preservation of the mighty Mississippi River, its nearest neighbors know very little about it.
According to some environmental groups, though, very simple efforts by individuals can make a big difference in the Mississippi's water quality.
Anything that goes in the street will eventually end up in the Mississippi River, said Diana Threadgill, president and executive director of Mississippi River Corridor-Tennessee, a nonprofit organization that fights pollution of the Mississippi.
For several years, the group has been making an effort to raise awareness about pollution of the Mississippi as bluntly as possible. Anything that goes into a storm drain, said Threadgill, whether it's a plastic bottle, a cigarette butt or a spoonful of garden fertilizer, will flow unfiltered into the river.
That's a big problem, she said. I don't think people are aware at all, but when you walk around Downtown or Midtown, all the trash that's on the street, it gets washed into the sewer system. That all goes into the river. I wasn't aware of that until I got involved in this work.
Recently, Mississippi River Corridor published a list of Nine Things You Can Do for the Mississippi River to encourage individuals to take action against river pollution.
As it turns out, picking up litter and joining an organized river cleanup are just the tip of the iceberg.
Second and third on the list are get your lawn off drugs and buy organic locally grown produce, two suggestions that Threadgill said people never think of on their own.
Lawn fertilizers and pesticides do the same damage on a smaller scale as large-scale industrial chemicals and nitrogen-based fertilizers from states in the northern reaches of the Mississippi.
The dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico, a giant floating amalgam of polluted water in which nothing will grow, is believed to be caused by farm runoff.
By buying local, organically grown produce, consumers shift business away from large farms to smaller operations, which typically do not use chemicals.
The major pollutants that come into the river are from four northern states primarily, said Threadgill. If you buy local, organic produce, they don't use the nitrogen-based fertilizers.
Also on the list of tips is Get to know your river and Support river access, as recreational use of the Mississippi is the way most Memphians become informed about pollution of the river.
Ten years ago, I never saw any kayaks or canoes, said Threadgill. But now there are kayaks every day. The marina is full of them. It's becoming more and more popular. We see a definite increase in the recreational opportunities.
But the trouble, said Ken Kimble, development director for the Wolf River Conservancy, is that many of the people who use the Mississippi and its tributaries, like the Wolf, for recreation are people who moved to Memphis from out of town. With native Memphians, there's a sense that waterways are just for looking at. …