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Lakes, Rivers, and Coastlines, Major Lakes and River Systems
Lake Itasca, river transportation, Lawrence Seaway, Yukon River, ship traffic
Two enormous drainage systems dominate the U.S. landscape: the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River and the Mississippi-Missouri rivers drainage areas. More than 75 percent of the freight moved along U.S. inland waterways moves on these waterways.
The Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River system serves the northern reaches of the country, from the Midwest to the eastern seaboard. The St. Lawrence Seaway, an extensive network of waterways and locks, allows ship traffic to pass between the Great Lakes and the Atlantic Ocean.
The Mississippi-Missouri River drainage system encompasses much of the central United States. The headwaters of the Mississippi are located in Lake Itasca in Minnesota, and the Missouri originates in the Rocky Mountain region of Montana. This huge system also includes the Ohio River, draining the Midwest and the northern segment of the Appalachian Mountains, and the Tennessee River, dominating the southern Appalachian region.
Several other river systems have played important roles in the economic and cultural growth of the United States. In the Pacific Northwest, the Columbia River and its tributaries drain much of the northern Pacific coastal mountain ranges. The semiarid and arid lands of the Southwest get life-sustaining water from the Rio Grande and Colorado river systems. The Central Valley of California depends on irrigation networks linked to the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers. The rugged interior regions of Alaska have become accessible largely because of river transportation on the Yukon River and its tributaries.
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