Commentary: You can improve the State of the RiverOn Sept. 27, the Friends of the Mississippi River and the National Park Service’s Mississippi National River and Recreation Area launched a comprehensive State of the River Report detailing the health of the river’s metropolitan corridor.
By: Whitney Clark and Paul Labovitz , The Republican Eagle
On Sept. 27, the Friends of the Mississippi River and the National Park Service’s Mississippi National River and Recreation Area launched a comprehensive State of the River Report (www.stateoftheriver.com) detailing the health of the river’s metropolitan corridor. The report, which analyzed a wealth of historical and current data, was compiled with the help of more than 30 scientific and technical advisers. It closely examined key indicators of the river’s health – things like wildlife abundance, sediment content and contaminant levels.
So, how is the river doing?
Our report concluded that the river has improved in both water quality and ecological health over time, but that there are also distressing trends and emerging concerns. For example, some portions of the river are impaired with excess bacteria, and site-specific fish consumption guidelines are in place throughout the river due to elevated levels of certain contaminants including mercury and PCBs. In addition, excess sediment and phosphorus continue to degrade aquatic habitat and recreation.
Even more disturbing were the trends that seem to be advancing at an alarming rate. These include dramatically increased flows (the amount of water moving through the river); nitrate concentrations; and the presence of newer contaminants – like triclosan, which is found in antibacterial soap – the risks of which are not yet fully understood.
Unfortunately, these trends have a major impact on Lake Pepin.
Massive loads of sediment, mostly from agricultural runoff, are filling in the lake, the upper third of which will be filled-in by the end of this century. Also, excess nutrients like phosphorus are degrading the recreational quality of the lake by creating algae blooms and poor water clarity.
We believe, however, that a combination of proactive public policy and individual actions can help turn the tide. At the local, state and federal level, we are urging policymakers to prioritize legislation that will protect the river.
The passage of the Clean Water Act 40 years ago has proven to be successful by regulating many sources of pollution to our rivers, but as new issues affecting the river emerge and as old problems persist, new policies are needed to ensure the health and vitality of our great river into the future.
We also encourage individuals to take action in their local communities. Here are the “top 10” actions that we hope individuals will take to preserve the river:
1. Do not flush pharmaceutical products down the drain; wastewater treatment systems are not designed to remove these pollutants
2. Use triclosan-free products.
3. Maintain a healthy lawn to help reduce runoff pollution.
4. Capture rain and filter runoff with rain gardens, rain barrels and perennial vegetation.
5. Pick up after your pet.
6. Remove leaves, grass clippings, trash and winter salts from your street, sidewalk and driveway before they wash into storm sewers.
7. Wash your car at a car wash where runoff is collected and treated, or on a lawn where the water can filter into the ground naturally.
8. Take responsibility for keeping your block’s storm drain free of leaves and trash; when debris enters a storm drain, it is discharged directly into rivers, lakes and streams untreated.
9. Get active in your community.
10. Participate in community cleanups.
The State of the River Report has given us insight into ways the river is improving, and also where it needs some help. It is our hope that we can use this information to focus and galvanize efforts to restore this invaluable resource, and pass it on to the next generation better than we found it.
Whitney Clar is executive director of Friends of the Mississippi River
Paul Labovitz is superintendent of the National Park Service Mississippi National River & Recreation Area.