The River’s Revenge: The Mississippi remains critical to our prosperity, but hostile to attempts to control it

LAKE ITASCA, Minn. — America’s greatest river begins here, in the still waters of a lake cradled in the dark woods of Minnesota. If left to its own devices, it would be a wild place, where a pristine lake turns into a free-running river.

But even at its very first inch, where Lake Itasca’s edge tips into a narrow stream, people have altered the Mississippi, making it conform to a practical, human purpose. With each successive alteration — millions of changes, large and small, over hundreds of years, along a winding 2,552-mile path through 10 states to the Gulf of Mexico — communities further downstream pay a price, none steeper than in Louisiana.

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