Do The United States And Canada Share The Mississippi River

The Mississippi River is one of the most prominent physical features of the United States and Canada. Boundaries aside, it is a source of life, sustenance, and recreation for both countries. This article will take a look at the shared relationship between the United States and Canada and the Mississippi River.

Of all the Great Lakes, only Lake Superior is connected to the Mississippi River watershed, while the remaining four flow into the Atlantic Ocean. The river is divided into two portions: the Upper Mississippi, bisecting the area between the Midwestern United States and the Great Lakes; and the Lower Mississippi, flowing south toward the Gulf of Mexico. The entire stretch is located primarily in the United States, but does border both Canada and Mexico.

The full geographic area of the Mississippi River basin is roughly 2,200,000 square miles, reaching from halfway up Wisconsin and Minnesota to western Mississippi and eastern Louisiana. While the majority of the watershed remains in the United States, a small portion of the basin overflows into Canada, notably in Lake of the Woods and Rainy Lake, both of which drain northward from Minnesota.

In addition to the trans-border flows of water, the Canada-U.S. agreement allows for the shared use of central sections of the river, allowing traders and fishers to cross between the two countries without needing a passport. This understanding is upheld with rules and regulations, ensuring that the connected areas are kept in balance and the main artery isn’t overexploited.

At the same time, the Mississippi River and its connected ecosystem serves as an important economic resource for North America, providing recreational facilities and a crucial food source. The banks of the Mississippi are also home numerous species of bird, fish, and other animals.

Moreover, the connected section of the river is a major transportation artery, allowing much of the Midwest to be supplied with goods from elsewhere in the country and abroad, often from Canadian ports. This economic relationship has enabled people around the world to benefit from the transportation of food and goods, which provides the people of both countries with the ability to receive goods at a fraction of what it would cost if the transportation had to be completed between the two countries.

The Mississippi has long been a source of sustenance and recreation for both countries. In the United States, the Mississippi River forms a large portion of the Arkansas-Mississippi boarder and has been referred to as “the backbone of an empire”. In Canada, the river has been celebrated in folk songs and revered as a source of life.

Mississippi River Histroy

The Mississippi River Watershed has a long and rich history of human settlement. Ancient Indigenous peoples, including the Anishinaabeg people, occupied the area for centuries prior to European colonization. The first explorers to the region were Jacques Cartier, the Frenchman who claimed the territory for France in 1534, and the French explorer La Salle, who completed what is now historically known as the first trans-continental voyage by canoe in 1682. Since then, European settlers and American immigrants have established and maintained presence throughout the region. In 1803, the Louisiana Purchase connected the previously separate French and American settlements, giving the United States an exclusive claim to the entire Mississippi River Watershed. After the British-American War of 1812, both countries’ relationship to the river was solidified and defined, giving current Canadians and Americans the ability to freely travel the length of the river.

Environmental Challenges

While the Mississippi River provides a great source of sustenance, particularly for the United States, it also presents many environmental challenges. Agricultural, industrial, and urban runoff from the Midwest have cause severe pollution in the Gulf Coast, with large portions of the river being categorized as impossible to fish or swim in. The overfishing of species such as paddlefish and sturgeon has also had a detrimental impact on the region’s ecosystem. These water issues have become a priority for both countries in recent years. Recent efforts to reduce runoff and ban certain fisheries have helped to restore balance to the river, ensuring that its resources can be shared by both nations for generations to come.

The Future of Sharing the Mississippi River

The continuous exchange of goods and services between the United States and Canada has almost become a norm. It is expected that the river will remain a point of connection between both countries in the coming years. As the two countries join in environmental efforts to improve the water flow, the effects will be felt by everyone who rely on it. It is also expected that more cross-border cooperation and coordination will occur, allowing both sides to work in partnership to protect the river and its resources.

Benefits for Local Communities

The Mississippi River provides numerous benefits for local communities, both along the banks and across the two countries. For example, in the United States, the Mississippi River Commission has opened up opportunities for local economies to build businesses related to the river, including recreational activities, aquatic products, and river transportation. In Canada, the water way has provided the people with a source of sustenance, as well as a means for trade. It has also been a source of spirituality and cultural expression for many Indigenous peoples living along its banks. By continuing to share the river, both countries can come together to encourage more of these cultural benefits.

Impact on Recreation and Tourism

The Mississippi River offers an expansive range of recreational activities, including fishing, kayaking, boat tours, and river rafting. Canada and the United States both have large numbers of tourists looking to experience the culture and outdoor activities that the river offers. Tourism is a major industry on both sides of the river, generating revenue for the surrounding areas. As the river is shared and protected, more people are given the opportunity to experience the sights and sounds up close, furthering the appreciation and respect for the life-giving waters.

Economic Impact for US & Canada

The power of the Mississippi river has long been evident, and its economic impact has immense implications. In the United States, the mighty efforts of the Corps of Engineers have created and maintained the great channel, bringing goods and services up and down the river with both barge and container shipping. The goods that flow through the river have created a multi-billion dollar industry, providing jobs and boosting local economies. In Canada, the goods transported from the US, such as coal and oil, have been a major factor of the country’s robust economy. With the goods being shared and not just exchanged, the existence of the river creates tremendous opportunities for both countries.

Security Implications of Sharing the Mississippi River

The Mississippi River has been a source of contention and conflict throughout its history. Both during the War of 1812 and more recently in 2020, the river has been at the center of negotiations between the United States and Canada. In order to fully protect the river, both sides have agreed to implement stricter security measures, including monitoring of the river by both sides and a requirement for permission to cross the border. While this has caused some disruption, it’s overall goal is to protect the interests of both countries and ensure the safety of the people living near the river.


Though the United States and Canada share the Mississippi River, the two nations are still very much separate. In some areas, such as environmental issues, they may cooperate in ways that benefit both countries. In others, such as security, they may implement measures to protect their own interests. With better understanding of the implications and importance of their shared river, the two countries can come together to ensure it continues to be a source of life, sustenance, and recreation for all.

Raymond Strasser is a passion-driven writer and researcher, dedicated to educating readers on the topic of world rivers. With a background in Geography and Environmental Studies, Raymond provides insightful pieces which explore the impact and importance that rivers have around the world.

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