Back on November 12th I was privileged enough to be able to attend the fifth annual Minnesota River Congress in New Ulm. The River Congress is a summit that meets about twice a year dedicated to finding ways for groups and individuals interested in preserving the Minnesota River to work together. Which is a good thing, because the Minnesota River is in need of a lot of help these days.
Unfortunately, the Minnesota River remains one of the most troubled bodies of water in our entire state. It is affected by large quantities of agricultural run-off every year, while simultaneously subject to large-scale erosion along its banks, and a water level that can surge up and down. Which in turn can make problems like erosion and pollution even worse.
The reason for this? Well sadly, we just haven’t been doing a good enough job taking care of the river over the years. Much of the flood plain has been turned into cropland, or only recently reverted back to natural areas. While development and new drainage techniques along the river has led to water surging into the river after rainstorms and snowmelts like never before. And that’s just the current problems affecting the river. As event organizer Scott Sparlin pointed out during the event, it wasn’t that long ago that clean up events required the help of the National Guard to pull out old cars and water heaters from the river.
The good news is that the River Congress represents a unique avenue to try and address these issues from a river basin standpoint. At the Congress there were representatives from some of the 13 watershed districts that govern the Minnesota River Basin as well as representatives of the business community, agriculture, nonprofits, other local governments, recreational users, and regular concerned community members. Which of course makes a lot of sense, after all water and pollution don’t just stop at political lines drawn on a map, and water issues affect all us of to some degree.
Fortunately the state has already taken a big step towards cleaning up our waters earlier this year with the implementation of Governor Dayton’s buffer proposal into law. Growing these buffer strips along streams and creeks will be a big help in terms of filtering out agricultural runoff and helping to slow water down after major rain storms. This in turn will lead to less erosion and flooding along the Minnesota River as a whole. But even so there is still a lot of work to be done on the Minnesota.
Which is why I was so glad to be able to attend the River Congress. Hopefully by all working together, we’ll be able to make a collective impact when it comes to protecting Minnesota’s second biggest river. Because after all, if we don’t work to clean up the river, who will?