The mighty Mississippi River, at 2,320 miles long, is the largest river system in the United States and empties into the Gulf of Mexico. Along its longest stretch, the river passes through ten states and the Clinton, Iowa area near the center of the river’s longest stretch. At its deepest point, the river reaches depths of 30 to 35 feet. But, how deep is the Mississippi River at Clinton Iowa?
The current average depth of the Mississippi River at Clinton, Iowa, is 6.2 feet, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE). USACE hydrologists regularly measure the river levels at five different points along the Mississippi River including Dubuque, Davenport, Quad Cities, Clinton and Muscatine. At its widest point, the river is approximately .32 miles across in the Clinton area, but the depth can range from 6.2 feet, at the shallowest point, to 25 feet at the deepest. Much of the depth varies depending on seasonal rain patterns in the area.
While the USACE measurements help establish a current baseline for the river’s depth, there is evidence that the water levels of the Mississippi River in the Clinton area were significantly deeper in the past. Early accounts of the area offer descriptions of a much deeper river prior to the modern river dredging and land reclamation efforts of the late 19th and 20th centuries. During these projects, more than 200 million cubic yards of sediment, sand and clay were removed from the banks and tributaries of the Mississippi River between 1905 to 1981, helping to facilitate the growth of the region.
Dr. Steward Pfefferman, Professor of Marine Ecology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, researches how land use practices on the Mississippi River’s tributaries can impact its depth. Pfefferman says that as water flows from the south it picks up sediment from the agriculture fields and carries it downstream. This sediment, which is a combination of rocks, dirt, and fertilizer, can then accumulate in areas along the Mississippi River, reducing its depth by trapping the sediment. As the sediment builds up, it can also alter the course of the river, creating smaller tributaries or pushing the river in a new direction.
Another factor contributing to the changing depth of the river is the man-made navigation channels. Cut into the river to facilitate barge traffic, these channels carve away the sediment and rock lining the riverbank, but they also change how the water flows and accumulates in various features along the river valley. Without the channels, the sediment would eventually settle at the bottom of the river, leading to deeper depths. Ultimately, the combined effect of sedimentation, navigation channels and human activities along the river have impacted its depth.
Limnology & The River’s Health Transforming
In the last 10 years, scientists have applied the study of limnology in understanding the value of the river and its impact on local ecosystems. Limnology is the study of shallow bodies of water, such as the Mississippi River, and examines the physical and chemical properties of the water, as well as its organisms that inhabit it. The work of professionals like Pfefferman has helped to show how mankind’s interference with local land usage can also heavily impact its depths and how pollution caused by these practices affects the health of its watersheds.
The river’s health, undoubtedly, has been a major topic of conversation in Clinton, Iowa over the years, with an ever increasing amount of attention being given to the effects of commercial barge traffic, agricultural runoff and the sedimentation of the riverbed. For instance, the excessive amount of sediment accumulation in the Mississippi River at Clinton over time has led to the shoreline receding from the river up to 40 feet in some areas. Unfortunately, the sediment is also disrupting some of the local ecosystems, including fish populations and vegetation, of the surrounding shorelines.
What’s more is that these environmental changes also have caused an increase of waterborne diseases, also known as waterborne pathogens. One of the most common, E.coli, typically originates from animals and humans and can enter the water through agricultural runoff and waste. When infected, E.coli can cause widespread illness, especially in highly populated areas near the river.
Combating Water Quality Loss & Reclamation Efforts
Instructed by the findings of the USACE, Clinton and the surrounding cities are actively working to combat water quality loss and properly reclaim the land. Local citizens and politicians, as well as state and federal agencies, are largely in agreement that catfish fishing and recreational opportunities should continue to be protected while also addressing the issues of pollution and sediment.
Over the next several years, the USACE will continue to work with local resource managers and land owners to implement erosion control measures, maintain hydrologic processes, promote healthy habitat and provide recreational opportunities throughout the project.
For example, in a recent project completed in 2018, sediment and nutrient removal turned Clinton’s murky Mississippi River into a healthy, oxygen-rich habitat with a clear field of sight underwater. The reclaimed area was witnessed with calm waters more appropriate for recreational activities such as fishing and boating, while maintaining the river’s current depth. This was achieved by using an underwater constructions approach using a scour pool and shallow sediment riffles.
Overall, the USACE and other local efforts have attempted to find a balance between achieving and maintaining a healthy river system with a water depth that also appeals to citizens and visitors for recreational activities. Currently, the Mississippi River at Clinton, Iowa, offers an average depth of 6.2 feet.
The Role of Aquatic Regeneration
The USACE is also utilizing aquatic regeneration practices along the 3,000 miles of the Mississippi River’s shorelines. Aquatic regeneration works by supporting the growth of native aquatic plants in areas along the riverbanks. By restoring these naturally occurring plants, the river’s underlying ecological processes are rejuvenated, and the bed of the river is further stabilized, preventing loss of water and sediment.
Additionally, this vegetation serves as an important breeding and feeding zone for aquatic species and helps to reduce nutrient pollution while providing an opportunity for shore naturalization and shore stability.
Aquatic regeneration is a practice that has been gaining growing attention over the years, and is a practice that the USACE suggests can be used to reduce turbulence and conserve marginal wetland areas to ensure the health of the river over time.
Benefits of The River’s Depth
The depth of the Mississippi River at its Clinton area supports outdoor recreational activities, including swimming and fishing, from spring to early fall. Hundreds of thousands of people flock to the banks of the Mississippi each year to enjoy its wide array of outdoor activities and witness its natural beauty. Visitors also can take in the plethora of plants and wildlife that the Mississippi River supports in its habitats along the river.
The Clinton area also is home to many rich historical sites, including the McWayne Log Cabin, the oldest dwelling in Clinton County. The cabin dates back to the 1850s and provides a glimpse into the area’s pioneer history. Old remnants of barges and train tracks also can be found, highlighting the rich industrial history of the Mississippi River at Clinton, Iowa.
Furthermore, the 6.2-foot average depth of the river at Clinton has helped attract businesses to the area. For instance, the Eagle Point Marina, located right on the banks of the Mississippi River, lies on 23 acres of rolling hills and offers its visitors with a 50-boat marina, as well as a campground, beach and other resort activities.
How Residents Can Help Sustain The River
Residents of Clinton and other cities along the Mississippi can help sustain the local environment in several ways. People can get involved in grass-roots initiatives to help improve the quality of their watershed, such as volunteer clean-up efforts. Additionally, residents can limit the use of fertilizer and pesticides around the river’s shorelines, as these excessive chemicals eventually are washed into the river as well.
The local towns and cities in the Clinton area also offer a variety of activities and events that help to protect the natural beauty of the Mississippi. Educational programs provide education on how to reduce pollution and better preserve the river overall. Additionally, local governments promote recreational activities that help to clean up the river and protect its habitats.
It is through a collective effort that the area can work towards protecting the natural and cultural heritage of the Mississippi River while also preserving its waters and depths.
Conclusion of Biodiversity & Conservation
Animal and plant species biodiversity plays an integral role in the long-term health of the Mississippi River and its tributaries. By working with local governments and residents to preserve and protect the river’s ecosystems, the river’s depths and virility can be better maintained over time for future generations.
Local and federal agencies, including the USACE, strive to ensure the continued success of the Mississippi River and its inhabitants with both long-term and short-term strategies. With the restoration of aquatic regeneration and the reclamation of land, the Mississippi River and its depths at Clinton Iowa will remain a source of recreation and beauty for years to come.