University of Minnesota
University of Minnesota

We Ought To Be Able To Do Better Than This

Suppose for a minute that you knew there was a mortal threat to your livelihood, if not your life, encroaching street by street, block by block, coming inexorably toward you.  You don’t know where the threat is right now, but you know it’s out there somewhere.


  1. Work with neighbors to create a deterrent fence or some other protective structure on your block.
  2. Put up your deterrent structure on your property, because, after all, the neighbors aren’t that easy to work with and some of them don’t think this is much of a threat anyway.
  3. Reinforce your front door, but leave your front yard unguarded, because, really, your yard is a pretty cool place, but the real safety and value is in your house.
  4. Don’t worry about your yard or house, but reinforce your bedroom door, figuring that any money spent defending yourself prior to your “last stand” is money wasted.
Leaping Silver Carp.  Flickr:  UWiscSeaGrant

Leaping Silver Carp. Flickr: UWiscSeaGrant

If the mortal threat in this little scenario is the Asian carps that are coming up the Mississippi River, voraciously outcompeting local native fish (like walleyes) for food and wrecking the ecosystem, to say nothing of their You Tube-documented habit of jumping into the air when alarmed, then it appears the State of Minnesota may have chosen Option 4 above.  Sure, the DNR is putting money into studies of the state’s “front yard” waters, and thinking about drawing the line against carp in the Twin Cities.  But as this article from the Minneapolis Star Tribune makes clear, the money actually being spent on deterrance is north of the city, at the Coon Rapids Dam.  The Coon Rapids Dam may be the “last defense” against the invasive fish before they get upstream into northern Minnesota, potentially threatening a state fishery and tourism industry that has been estimated at between $7 and $11 billion in annual value.

So why are we only reinforcing the last line of defense?  Long time observers of the Coon Rapids Dam controversy might argue that this whole thing started years ago, when local agencies debated who would pay to upgrade and maintain the deteriorating century-old structure.  Local park districts didn’t want to invest in it.  Why not take the dam down and let the river run free?  Well, a couple of hundred homeowners who have property stretching a few miles upriver would then have mud flats for their front yard, instead of an impounded, lake-like Mississippi River, provided for them by taxpayers across the state of Minnesota.

So we have $16 million being invested in the 100 year old dam, with Asian carps used as the rationale for preserving the dam and the amenity of the lake.

We ought to be able to do better than this.

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One Comment

  1. Paul Labovitz, Superintendent, Mississippi National River & Recreation Area, National Park ServiceApril 16, 2013 at 12:06 pm

    Right on with this analogy. What is happening with the Coon Rapids Dam is a great civics lesson about how decisions are made regarding our natural resources without much regard for those resources. This is the result of a political process, not scientists doing what is right and best for the Mississippi River. One thing I would disagree with in this blog, if the dam were removed, property owners would soon be living along a much more diverse and interesting river environment, not a mud flat. Many studies exist that talk about the positive impact on adjacent properties when a dam is removed and a river restored. A free-flowing and healthy natural river is one of the best defenses against invasive species. The impoundment above the Coon Rapids Dam will remain a relatively unhealthy habitat and ultimately become a nursery for Asian Carp and the next round of aquatic invasives heading north now enabled by taxpayers.

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