How Long Does it Take For Water To Travel The Length Of The Mississippi River (And Why)?

Exact Answer : 90 days

The name “The Mississippi” is driven from the Ojibwa language (French). It means “The great river”. As the name suggests the great river, Mississippi indeed is one of the longest water bodies in the North America. It is the second longest river of North America. Not only that, it is also the largest drainage system in the North American continent. The river has always played an important role in the history of America when it comes to trade and transportation. Mississippi is one of the largest water system in the world.

The Mississippi river holds great importance to America in not only its commercial development but also in terms of maintaining biodiversity (biological productivty). The Mississippi waters and its floodplains serve as home to a large variety of organisms. In context to this, around 260 species of fishes,38 documented species of mussel, at least 146-147 species of amphibians and reptiles are found around the Mississippi.Adding to that are more the 50 species of mammals and 45 percent of North America’s migratory birds are found. This very clearly shows how much the flora and fauna flourish in and around the Mississippi waters.

Mississippi river apart from providing habitat to a thousand organisms also is responsible for the jobs of around 40,000 jobs related to trade and commerce that happens through it. The Mississippi provides fresh drinking water to a millions people out there and is successfully carrying trade and food around the world. It indeed is one of the largest water highway.

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How Long Does it Take For Water To Travel The Length Of The Mississippi River?

1. Missouri river (Headwaters)1.2 miles/hour
2. New Orleans3 miles/hour

It takes about 3 months (90 days) for a water drop to travel the length the Mississippi river. Being one of the longest and largest waterway the dimensions of the river are as follows:-

  1. LENGTH: The source of the river is Lake Itasca of America to the Gulf of Mexico, which is around 2,350 miles in length. Mississippi-Missouri ranks fourth in length when compared to other major waterbodies.(3,710 miles/5,970 km). Talking about the Missouri river, it is 100 miles long. All in all, it is said that the length varies depending upon the year and measurement method.
  2. WIDTH: Narrowest part – 20-30 feet (at Lake Itasca), Broadest part – 11 miles ( Lake Winnibigoshish near Bena), Widest navigable section: 2 miles(Lake Pepin).
  3. VOLUME: The flow rates are various parts are as follows:- At Lake Itasca – 6 cubic feet/sec, At New Oreleans- 600,000 cubic feet/sec.l

Why Does it Take So Long For Water To Travel The Length Of Mississippi River?

The river Mississippi can be divided into three sections :

  1. The Upper Mississippi (from its headwaters to the Missouri river.)
  2. The Middle Mississippi (from Missouri to the Ohio )
  3. The Lower Mississippi (from Ohio to the Gulf of Mexico).

The reason why it take 3 months to reach from its source(Lake Itasca) to the Gulf of Mexico lies in the fact of it being the second longest river of North America. Other factors that can determine this time frame can be the speed of water at various sections of the river. The speed of water at different points are as follows:

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  1. 1.The average speed of water : 1.2 miles/hour at the headwaters.
  2. At New Orleans: 3 miles/hour

The water speeds up to a high extent (quadruple) during heavy rains and floods and vary considerably are various locations.Upon meeting the Missouri and the Ohio,speed increases to around triple of what it was before.


Mississippi in a way is one great water highway on earth which provides drinking water to a million people out there. It also supports families of around 35,600 people through the jobs related to trade and shipment. Through its water it carries trade and bread for the world.

The speed of water changes due to various factors such as rise and fall in water (the water level increases during floods which in turn increases the speed of water and vice-versa). level,river widens,narrows, width and volume of the river changes at different points and so on.

Hence, it takes 3 months for water to travel the length of the Mississippi.