The Mississippi River Basin is one of the largest and most complex river systems in the world. (Figure 1) It is the third largest river in the world and the fifth in the amount of water it discharges. The Mississippi is responsible for draining 41 percent of the continental United States. It's basin covers all or part of 31 states. (Figure 2)
The Mississippi River is very important to the people of the Untied States. About 18 million people rely on the Mississippi and all of it's tributaries for drinking water including 62 major cities. In total, the Mississippi supplies 23% of the nation's public surface water supplies.
The Mississippi also creates many jobs in the areas surrounding it. It supports commercial and sport fisheries, shellfish industries, agriculture, food processing, silverculture, aquaculture, water related recreation, tourism, and a barge system that allows for transportation of many products. Unfortunately, the river is also used to remove wastes and other pollution generated by humans in the area.
Despite all of this human activity, the Mississippi still supports a large amount of animal and plant life. This includes 241 fish species, approximately 50 mammal species, 45 species of reptiles and amphibians, and 37 species of mussels. The path of the river is also very important in the annual migration of many bird species in the U.S. 60% of all the U.S. bird species use the Mississippi River Basin as a flyway during migration.