Trillions of tributaries have made themselves known as the transition to Spring is in full effect across the Mississippi River watershed. From the Western boundary of the Rocky Mountains to the Appalachians in the East and as far North as Minnesota; water is flowing in innumerable of ways down-gradient (downhill) on a path to the Southernmost point of the watershed- the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean.

Every river in the Mississippi River’s watershed, which covers almost 40 percent of the lower 48 states. Credit: NASA’s Scientific Visualization Studio Link

Now perhaps ‘trillions of tributaries’ is hyperbole, but it really helps drive home the fact that the Mississippi River connects land, wildlife, water, and people over 1.2 million square miles. And at this time of year, it is easier to visualize these connections as water is flowing in various forms from snowmelt streams, to urban creeks and along rural ditches. When we are able to conceptualize the Mississippi River as the sprawling connected system it is, we truly bear witness to One River; Trillions of Tributaries.

Across the Midwest, snowmelt streams take form as the transition to spring is in full effect. Photo: Michael Anderson

The point is, when working with a subject matter as powerful and far-reaching as the Mississippi River, it is prudent to think in terms of one interconnected system. The ‘down-stream’ effect is very real, and all River Citizens have an impact on water quality. A large scale example of this can be seen with the seasonal Dead Zone, where excess nutrients washed downstream from fertilizers and sewage create massive algal blooms resulting in an oxygen-depleted (hypoxic) environment.

Breakdown of how the ‘dead zone’ is created in the Gulf of Mexico. Further information from the EPA.

The ‘Dead Zone’ if not one person’s doing but rather the result of many cumulative agreements and actions. However, each one of us can make a difference for the health and protection of the Mississippi River by taking action at our ‘local access point’. Where is your closest waterway connection to the Mighty Mississippi? Is it the city storm drain on your block? The ephemeral hillside stream on the back side of your property? Maybe you live directly on a major tributary River? As far as I’m aware, the Gulf of Mexico doesn’t differentiate if the water molecules rushing in were once in midwestern wetlands, mountain streams, or somewhere in between.

“Each one of us can make a difference for the health and protection of the Mississippi River by taking action at your ‘local access point’. Where is your closest waterway connection to the Mighty Mississippi?”

As River Citizens, we inhabit many different locations and have unique local challenges and opportunities, yet we can combine our efforts in unity to care for something that is much bigger than any one of us. Some of us River Citizen’s are farmers, others city dwellers, some River enthusiasts spending many days a year at the River, while others have had only a few direct experiences with the River.

When we come together, we can do so much more! River Citizens unite for a healthy and protected Mississippi!
Photo: Michael Anderson

What matters is that we accumulate and align our efforts just like that of Trillions of Tributaries to become One iconic and powerful River. Thank you, River Citizens, for being a tributary of the 1 Mississippi movement. Together, we will protect the Mississippi River for the land, the water, the wildlife, and the people.

-Michael Anderson, River Citizen and 1 Mississippi campaign manager

Thanks for all you do River Citizens!