MPCA report: The Upper Mississippi's upstream crud

by Peter LaFontaine

Today's farming and land-use practices are creating more erosion and flushing more sediment into the Upper Mississippi River. Protecting forests and vegetation along waterways is an essential part of the solution. (Photo by MPCA)

What's your impression of the upper reaches of the Mississippi? Clean, clear and healthy? Well, as reported by MPR's Kirsti Marohn, a new study from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency paints a slightly different picture: Our favorite river has a sediment problem even up North from Grand Rapids to Brainerd, just downriver from its pristine headwaters.

Sediment, as we noted in the State of the River Report, is made up of the tiny particles of soil and other matter that washes off the landscape and travels downstream with the water's flow. These particles can stifle plant and animal life. They also carry hitchhiking pollutants like phosphorous, so it's important to limit sediment by reducing erosion in the first place.

That's a tall task, as we've spent the last 160 years turning forest and prairie into farmland and suburbs. These land-use changes, paired with artificial drainage and increased rainfall, are increasing river flows and making our river systems more erosive.

But we can still make a positive impact. Through our land conservation work, FMR is restoring forests and riverbank vegetation to protect our river. Elsewhere, our water program work is focusing on advancing new agricultural systems that hold more water back on the land and help prevent erosion and sediment pollution. 

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