Lower stretch of Mississippi River calls for improvements

Published 10:31 am Thursday, January 26, 2017

ST. PAUL — A new report from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency says the upper Mississippi River is in good shape, but the water quality quickly degrades as it flows toward the Twin Cities.

The lower Mississippi River needs major improvements to reduce pollution, according to the report.

“The pattern that we found is that the water quality in the Upper Mississippi, from the headwaters down to about the St. Cloud area, is really very, very good,” said Dana Vanderbosch, manager of lake and stream monitoring with the state pollution control agency. “But then, south of St Cloud, and into Minneapolis, the water quality really starts to degrade, and the river life isn’t as healthy.”

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While the northern stretch of the river flows largely through forests and wetlands that help filter out pollutants, the lower stretch receives more polluted runoff from farms and urban development, Minnesota Public Radio News  reported. Another problem area is between St. Cloud and Minneapolis, where the river doesn’t meet water quality standards and isn’t safe to swim in during certain times of the year.

To resolve the issues, the state agency says farmers need to be more proactive by adding buffer strips to capture soil runoff and add cover crops.

Dennis Fuchs with the Stearns County Soil and Water Conservation District said farmers in his area are making changes.

“We’ve spent a significant amount of time working with producers to solve feedlot runoff problems and to develop comprehensive nutrient management plans that help them optimize fertilizer and manure use,” he said.

More than 260,000 acres of forest, wetland and grassland were converted to agriculture in the Mississippi River Headwaters area between 2008 and 2013, according to the Nature Conservancy.

“From my view, I don’t think Minnesota has done enough to protect this critical area of the state, to have a deliberate effort by the state and partners to protect critical areas for the river,” said Ron Biske, who manages the group’s freshwater program.