The annual Mississippi River Forum, sponsored by the National Park Service, with support from the Mississippi River Fund and the McKnight Foundation, was held May 17 at the Science Museum in St. Paul.
The room was packed with about 120 people with a keen interest in water quality.
That is, packed with folks representing the forestry service and other natural resources, watersheds, Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, Department of Public Health, university Extension and overall conservation interests.
Sadly, there were no farm groups in attendance.
I know, given our late winter and narrow planting window, farmers were possibly in fields. We can use that reasoning.
That's why we have farm organizations with staffs. And I know that lots of those hard-working folks were at the state capitol so farm voices would be heard there, too.
Yet, when it comes to water quality, it was not lost on this audience on May 17 that there were NO farmers there. A couple people commented on the billboards they saw as they came into town. Billboards that featured farmers on them, saying how much they cared about their environment. But no farmers were at this annual meeting that talked about the major water quality issues of our state.
Farmers might not live near the Mississippi. However, their crop and livestock/poultry management practices eventually impact its water quality in some way as water flows into it from their watersheds.
Minnesota is unique in that all the water we have here, that's it. No water flows into our state; it flows out. What we get, we get from the sky.
Items shared at this meeting include:
-80% of the sediment comes from the Minnesota River basin and 85% of that comes from agricultural land.
-Lake Pepin is unique. It's been collecting sediment from several sources for 10 million years. Seventy percent of that sediment has been from non-field sources—ie.—streambanks that are eroding at an unnatural rate. Lake Pepin is special because it's been collecting erosion from bluffs. And the major cause of that erosion? Artificial drainage. Research looking at 21 watersheds shows that between two periods, 1940-1975, and 1976 and 2009, waterflow has increased 75% in the latter period. Precipitation, cropping conversions and artificial drainage have made impacts.
-Farmers want to point to science to prove their points, yet sometimes discard the science that is already available. Granted, research and discovery is ongoing. Yet if "facts are facts," some still choose to ignore them.
The farming community has done so much to educate itself about water quality issues and to "be at the table."
It's so vitally important that we continue to do so. Especially when we have the opportunity to visit with so many who value many of the same things we do about the state.
Let's make sure we do not miss future meetings such as this one.