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Riverboats To Monitor Mississippi River Water Quality

In a public-private partnership, the American Queen riverboat will carry USGS water monitors on trips up and down the Mississippi River.

Those calliope-playing Mississippi riverboats will soon be carrying more than passengers. Scientists are preparing to attach monitors to some boats in an effort to gather more data on the river's water quality.

Mayors from up and down the Mississippi River gathered on a steamboat in Memphis Monday to announce a public-private partnership. The mayors agree that what happens upriver affects towns and the environment downriver. When lots of fertilizer and pesticides wash off of farmland upstream, it pollutes the river and ultimately ends up dumping into the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico.

In order to measure that runoff, the U.S. Geological Survey and the Army Corps of Engineers are attaching a monitor on a cruise boat run by the American Queen Steamboat Company.

USGS director, Jim Reilly, says scientists already measure things like water temperature, PH level, and oxygen, but it is the first time they’ll be able to do that moving down the river, rather than just putting sensors in one place. Reilly says, “Now you have this picture of the watershed all the way from the beginnings - up near the Canadian border and the Great Lakes, all the way down to the birdafoot delta there in Louisiana.”

Initially one monitor will be attached to the stern of the boat and will take measurements every five minutes. Reilly says data like this could help farmers and scientists cut down on runoff. It’s a pilot project for now, they plan to install more monitors on additional boats in the future.

Tegan has reported on the coast for WWNO since 2015. In this role she has covered a wide range of issues and subjects related to coastal land loss, coastal restoration, and the culture and economy of Louisiana’s coastal zone, with a focus on solutions and the human dimensions of climate change. Her reporting has been aired nationally on Planet Money, Reveal, All Things Considered, Morning Edition, Marketplace, BBC, CBC and other outlets. She’s a recipient of the Pulitzer Connected Coastlines grant, CUNY Resilience Fellowship, Metcalf Fellowship, and countless national and regional awards.

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