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New Visions for the Mississippi River Gorge: That Didn’t Take Long, Did It?

June 15, 2015Patrick NunnallyRiversComments Off on New Visions for the Mississippi River Gorge: That Didn’t Take Long, Did It?

On Sunday, five days after the closing of the Upper St. Anthony Falls lock, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune ran a commentary piece inviting readers to imagine a “wilder future” for the Mississippi River gorge.  Illustrated with evocative drawings, the argument proposes that a “wild” Mississippi River restoration might make economic sense, make the area an even more distinctive destination, and keep invasive aquatic species such as carp at bay.

Well, maybe.  And, of course, maybe not.  It’s simply too early to tell what would be feasible, what the costs would be, what the benefits would be, and who would actually receive those benefits.  The idea is worth a look, though, and worth very careful analysis and study.  It’s not sufficient any more to say “we can’t think about restoration in the gorge because of the commercial navigation requirements there.”  The commercial navigation is gone; the question now is “What should the future gorge be?”

People seriously interested in this question should start with this report, by University of Minnesota scientist Chris Lenhart.  Lenhart’s study provides a necessary first scan at some of the key scientific questions that will need answers before the sort of system manipulation that is envisioned can take place.  What, for example, should be done with the million cubic yards of sediment (more or less) trapped behind the Ford Dam?

It’s fun to envision a Mississippi river gorge full of swirling whitewater.  That vision is closer now than it was two years ago.  If the vision of a “wilder future” is to gain any traction toward becoming real, then the conversations should be careful, intentional, and starting soon.

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