The Lower Mississippi River Water Trail

Introduction

The Lower Mississippi Riverkeeper

The Lower Mississippi Riverkeeper (LMRK) is a non-profit organization in Louisiana that works to identify and reduce pollution into the lower Mississippi River. Contact them anytime to report a concern, or if you have questions or need help in addressing a problem you see along the river. Contact LMRK through their website, lmrk.org, email paul@lmrk.org or call (225) 928-1315.


Environmental Reporting phone numbers:

United States Coast Guard

Anyone witnessing an oil spill, chemical release or maritime security incident should call the National Response Center (NRC) hotline: 1-800-424-8802


Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality

(601) 961-5797


Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality

(225) 219-3640
or toll free: 1-(888)-763-5424


Toxic Release Inventory (TRI)

Under the descriptions of the chemical manufacturing facilities and oil refineries you will see the toxic releases from those facilities. This comes from the Toxic Release Inventory or TRI. Since the passage of the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act of 1986 (and later expanded under the Pollution Prevention Act of 1990) any facility that produce more than 25,000 pounds or handles more than 10,000 pounds of specific toxic chemicals must report to the EPA how much of those chemicals it releases into the environment, disposes of onsite, or sends offsite for disposal. The data is all self-reported, that is each facility must keeps track of their own releases (this usually comes from discharge permits given by state environmental agencies) and provide that information to the EPA. These are all legal releases of toxic material. The facilities are legally allowed to discharge certain amounts of toxic material into the environment. This does not include accidental or un-permitted releases. It generally takes two years for the EPA to process all of the TRI submissions and release the data so you will see that all of the TRI data in Rivergator is from the most recently available year at the time of its writing which is 2013. We have only included releases of toxic material into the air and water in Rivergator. Virtually all of the TRI water discharges listed in Rivergator are into the Mississippi River. Information about the specific toxic chemicals released, onsite and offsite disposal, and host of other information is available online.

You can access the TRI data directly from the EPA at: http://www.epa.gov/toxics-release-inventory-tri-program

TRI data can also be accessed via an organization called the Right To Know Network. Their website can access EPA's TRI database in a way that is sometimes easier to use than the EPA site: http://www.rtknet.org/db/tri


Baton Rouge Crossroads

Canoeists and kayakers heading into Baton Rouge are approaching another crossroads of the Lower Mississippi River. Not only does the Intercostal Waterway provide perpendicular access to the southerly flowing river, but the addition of big freighters are a maritime game-changer at Baton Rouge, where they join the flotilla flurry of commercial activity and ratchet the danger scale upwards a notch or two.

Erstwhile paddler and philosopher Mike Beck offered a good primer for paddlers coming into Baton Rouge, and continuing on downstream. Observes Mike, with his characteristic sense of dry humor: “A lot of things on the river change at Baton Rouge, including attitudes:”

(1) The hailing frequency on the marine band changes when you pass the US 190 bridge. Change your Marine Radio from VHF channel 13 to VHF channel 67. PS: The USACE maps say to change the channel at Devil’s Swamp Light. It doesn’t matter where you do it, but be sure to make the change before coming into Baton Rouge.

(2) The volume and character of commercial traffic changes. From here to the Gulf, a paddler will be viewed less as a curiosity and more as a nuisance.

(3) People in Baton Rouge fear the river and regard it as a toxic cesspool. In South Louisiana the river is generally believed to be more polluted than it really is, and people, especially the educated ones, will tell you that this is a necessary trade-off for the sake of economic progress. Don’t try to disabuse them of either of these crippling superstitions; just smile and keep paddling. Briskly, if possible.

(4) The US Environmental Protection Agency considers the river clean enough to swim in from the Arkansas border until you reach Baton Rouge, where suddenly it isn’t. This has little to do with industrial pollution and everything to do with Baton Rouge flushing its collective toilet into the river. The City of Baton Rouge has been out of compliance with the Clean Water Act since the 1970s and has more or less flouted the conditions of a 1988 federal consent decree resulting from an enforcement action dating back to 1984. Earliest projected date for compliance: 2018. Baton Rouge has been more recalcitrant on this point than they were over school desegregation, which is saying something.

(5) An important geological change occurs here. You have reached the edge of the Pleistocene Terrace. That’s why there is a city here. From the foot of North Street (mile 230, site of the old Port Allen ferry landing), there is a continuous levee on both sides of the river all the way to the Gulf. The river begins to run slightly slower. At very low river stage, the BR gauge shows a tidal signal. Below here, the so-called “dry land” on either side of you is less than 7,000 years old. (Mike Beck)


Biting Bugs

It is worth mentioning that biting insects are something that you should be prepared for on your paddle in the deep south. (Thanks to Paul Orr and Zoe Sundra for writing this section.)

Mosquitos - In all but the coldest months mosquitos are a fact of life in the lowlands along the Mississippi River in Louisiana. Be prepared to deal with mosquitos (and sometimes clouds of mosquitos!) on your paddle. West Nile Virus and St. Louis Encephalitis are still showing up in SoLA. These diseases are not likely to cause a healthy adult any problems but young children, the elderly, and those with weakened immune systems should be very careful. If you or anyone in your party develops flu-like or other symptoms (body aches, joint pain, vomiting, diarrhea, rash, fatigue, fever, headache, dizziness, nausea, weakness) it is best to see a doctor as soon as possible. PS: A great way to avoid getting attacked by mosquitoes when leaving your tent at night is to use the bathroom is doubling 2 gallon size freezer ziploc bags and keeping them just outside your tent during the night. This will prevent continued itching, discomfort and unnecessary trips into uncomfortable weather throughout your expedition!

Fire Ants - Accidentally imported into the Gulf South through the Port of Mobile, the imported Red Fire Ant is now a widespread nuisance in the Deep South. You may have been lucky enough to avoid these aggressive and painful biters thus far but you won’t likely get through a paddle to the end of the river without at least a few bites. Just keep a sharp eye out for the characteristic hills (sometimes hiding in the brush!) and double check your camp site.

No-See-Ems / Biting Midges / Biting Gnats - Whatever you call them they can be a terrible nuisance. These tiny dark-colored flying insects live in the marshes of coastal Louisiana and can occur in very large numbers. Their bite can cause a very unpleasant localized reaction in many people and occasionally a worse allergic reaction in some. Paul has almost no problem with mosquitos but these gnats drive him crazy! The Rivergator expedition did not encounter any and hopefully you will not either, just be prepared if they do show up south of New Orleans. (Insider tip: Common bug spray seems to have no effect on these pesky fellas, but pure vanilla extract keeps them at bay!)

Ticks - Ticks are rarely seen in the Mississippi River Floodplain. They seem to prefer hill or mountain country like the Ozarks. It would be surprising to find them on the river south of Baton Rouge. However, anytime you walk through forested land it’s not a bad idea to follow up with a “tick check.”

Redbugs - Redbugs, like ticks, don’t seem to be much of a problem on the river south of Baton Rouge, but can occur in the area.