University of Minnesota
University of Minnesota

We All Live Downstream

February 2, 2015Patrick NunnallyRiver Meaning, RiversComments Off on We All Live Downstream

This truism, which is often described as a basis for a true water ethic, applies even here in Minnesota, the “Land of 10,000 Lakes.”  Minnesota is also a state that is increasingly aware that the health of those lakes, and by extension the health of humans, is at risk.

The Minneapolis Star-Tribune posted an article Sunday that very clearly outlines connections between the state’s forests, expanding agricultural land uses in former forest lands, and the impacts on groundwater.  In and around the small community of Park Rapids, expanded potato fields (French fries, anyone?) are threatening to increase nitrogen content in the region’s ground and surface waters.  More fields brings more irrigation as well as agricultural chemicals, which end up in the lakes, rivers and aquifer.  Downstream? The Twin Cities, with 1.7 million people dependent on the Mississippi River for their drinking water.

One of the article’s strengths is that it does not blame.  Agricultural operations are at the heart of the change, but operators are doing a great deal to reduce their water and chemical use.  The real problem, according to the state hydrologist, is that “we didn’t see this coming.”

Another “wake up call,” like the shrinking lake levels in White Bear Lake, located northeast of St. Paul.  Those of us downstream had better pay attention.  As the freshwater conservation director for the state’s chapter of The Nature Conservancy puts it, it is much easier and cheaper to protect water sources than it is to repair them.

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