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Is it safe to swim in the Mississippi River?

Good Question: Is it safe to swim in the Mississippi River?
Good Question: Is it safe to swim in the Mississippi River? 03:04

MINNEAPOLIS – Minnesotans seem to have no problem jumping in and splashing around the state's 10,000 lakes, but what about one of Minnesota's crown jewels: the Mississippi River?

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) says the river "fails to meet its recreation standard" south of St. Cloud.

Experts say the river is significantly cleaner and healthier than it was before the Clean Water Act of 1972.

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Friends of the Mississippi published a "State of the River" report MPCA data, measuring the phosphorus, nitrate and sediment that can harm the fish, bugs and plants. The chemicals won't hurt people, but bacteria like E. coli could. 

South of St. Cloud, the average E. coli level does violate the state standard. But Friends of the Mississippi says that doesn't mean you can't swim here.


There is one exception: heavy rains bring bacteria into the river. People should avoid it altogether within 48 hours of a major rain event.

Lisa Dugan promotes recreation safety at the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

"It's not like a pool where you can see a kid swimming in the water. Of course, it's moving water, so there's faster water, there can be currents," Dugan said. "There can be debris that may not be there. It can change from day to day."

Dugan says she would "absolutely" swim in the Mississippi, but swimmers are encouraged to always wear a life jacket – even in knee-high water – and to shower afterward.

What about eating fish from the Mississippi River? The Minnesota Department of Health recommends some limits depending on the type and where you catch them.

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