Good News About the Minnesota River
The Minnesota River has long been regarded by water quality experts as one of the leading sources of phosphorus, sediment, and other pollutants that find their way into the Mississippi River, contribute to the silting in of Lake Pepin (located between Minnesota and Wisconsin) and add to the “Dead Zone” in the Gulf of Mexico. Over two decades ago, Minnesota’s Governor Arne Carlson instructed state agencies to make cleaning up the Minnesota River a high priority.
So the news that was reported in today’s Minneapolis Star Tribune, that the phosphorus levels in the Minnesota River have fallen dramatically in the last decade, has been welcomed as a sign that all of the effort, money, negotiation, and compromise has begun to pay off. The river appears to be able to support aquatic life–fish, mussels, and plant life–more robustly than it has in decades, perhaps a century.
John Linc Stine, the head of Minnesota’s Pollution Control Agency, points out that Minnesota is the headwaters for three major continental watersheds, the Red River flowing north to Hudson Bay, the rivers that flow into Lake Superior, down the St. Lawrence River to the Atlantic, and the Mississippi. People downstream look to those of us living upstream for leadership in sending clean water down their way.
While the progress is important, and welcome, it remains to be seen how Minnesota’s agricultural producers react. Long stigmatized as the primary contributors of pollutants into the Mississippi River watershed, farmers and their interest groups such as the Corngrowers Association and the Farm Bureau have strongly resisted efforts to make water quality improvement measures mandatory. Such groups may use the recent evidence as part of an argument that voluntary compliance is working. We’ll see.
But it’s great to know that water quality is turning the right direction for a change.