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This section explores the importance of water as a means of transportation, examines the effects of transforming waterways to fit this use and the effects navigation itself has on water quality.

Would you like to get somewhere? You could take a car, a truck, a train, a plane or maybe even a boat. Major and minor rivers are an important part of the transportation system, which allows people and goods to move quickly and efficiently around the country. The Ohio, the Hudson, the Missouri, and the Mississippi Rivers are some of our country’s hardest working rivers and they all play an important role in commercial navigation.

Hydrologic Modifications
Rivers in their natural state are not easy to travel on. Getting rivers ready to support commercial navigation, required many hydrologic modifications. Curves and meanders were cut out to straighten rivers. Channels were dug and/or deepened to accommodate barges and boats. To maintain the depth of these channels, wing dams were installed to direct the water’s flow into these channels.

To prevent flooding, many rivers were "straightjacketed" with concrete and levees. While benefiting navigation, many of these changes negatively affected the natural river system. Water ended up flooding some areas, but cut off wetlands and riparian zones from river water.

Boats and Barges
The commercial activity on working rivers can also pose a threat to water quality.

  • The cargo hauled by boats and barges ranges from rubber tires to toxic chemicals. Accidents can spill dangerous chemicals or petroleum products into water, seriously impairing water quality.
  • The volume of traffic on a working river can also threaten its water quality. The more boats and barges moving up and down, the greater the risk of a spill or accident. There’s also more potential from pollution and dirt the vessels carry with them.
  • The increased traffic increases the rate of erosion, contributing sediment to the waterways.



Explore More: Water Quality
Copyright 2004, Iowa Public Television
The Explore More project is supported by funds from the
Roy J. Carver Charitable Trust
and the USDE Star Schools Program.














IPTV Market to Market Online Links

"Western Interest Still Divided Over Water Use." This Market to Market feature looks at the controversy of water rights taking place in the the western part of the country.

"Water Issues Trouble Rural America." This Market to Market feature looks at water interests of farming and rural areas. Read about flooding, drought, hydrologic modification, and more.