Riverboats To Monitor Mississippi River Water Quality

Sep 18, 2019

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.