Archived Story

Editorial: River cleanup needs renewed focus

Published 10:35am Monday, July 9, 2012

Restoration efforts in the Minnesota River Basin are a mixed bag. There have been more successes than failures since then-Gov. Arne Carlson stood on the banks of the river in Mankato 20 years ago announcing major state and federal efforts to improve one of the dirtiest rivers in the nation.

As a group of water planning professionals from across the basin met in Mankato recently, they asked an important question: Where to now?

The answer many of them had seems the correct way forward: focus limited financial resources and efforts on the highest priorities.

Since water improvement efforts began in earnest, hundreds of thousands of acres of floodplain that had been farmed have been idled, virtually every community has upgraded its wastewater plant to sharply reduce phosphorus, fish species have rebounded and residents have found a renewed appreciation for the jewel that is the Minnesota River.

But persistent problems and new threats still abound.

Asian carp threaten — if they already haven’t — to enter the Minnesota from the Mississippi. The DNR and federal officials, having at first written off any efforts to block them in favor of taking a stand further up the Mississippi, have wisely begun studying ways to block the destructive carp from getting in the Minnesota. Public and political pressure needs to be kept up to ensure those efforts are carried through.

While many pollutants have been reduced, there is still far too much nitrogen, phosphorus, pesticide and other chemicals entering the river.

And one of the most pressing problems facing the river is growing. Stream banks are eroding at an alarming rate, dumping dirt into the rivers — sediment that ends up in the Mississippi is rapidly filling in Lake Pepin. That erosion, says a growing body of research, is coming primarily from a dramatic increase in farm field drainage that is sending more water to rivers more quickly.

As those in the river basin move forward on building on water quality improvements, there must be a focus on tackling the biggest threats — a focus that is built around public and political support and cooperation.

Anything less threatens to stall, even reverse the stunning accomplishments that have so far been achieved.

— Mankato Free Press, July 3

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