Preventative Medicine for a Healthy Mississippi
To borrow a phrase from former president Bill Clinton, the state of our river is strong—compared to the Mississippi’s past health. The area of the river running through the Twin Cities metro is now home to bald eagles and at least 127 fish species, up from just two total fish in the 1926 fish survey; abundant wildlife signals a healthy Mississippi River.
The news isn’t all good. New man-made landscape changes, pollutants and invasive species threaten the river’s progress, according to the “State of the River Report,” by the Friends of the Mississippi and the National Park Service. It examined 13 indicators of river health in the area running just north of the Coon Rapids Dam to just north of Lake Pepin.
Major areas of concern are Asian carp, which could kill off other fish species; sediment and phosphorus, partly from farm fields, ravines and bluffs; household micro contaminants; and elevated river flow, due in some ways to over building.
State and federal policymakers are debating a number measures to ensure the river’s future health, from closing or building barriers around Lock and Dam 1 to stop invasive species’ spread to increasing funding for conservation farming practices to conducting further research.
In the meantime, we can become immediate stewards of the river. There are ten things the Friends of the Mississippi and National Park Service suggest. Most are pretty simple. http://stateoftheriver.com/stewardship-guide/
First, don’t flush old pills or medication down the toilet. “Waste water treatment facilities are not specifically designed to remove pharmaceuticals” and they will eventually wind up in water ways. Your medications can adversely impact fish and other aquatic life. Many Minnesota counties have safe drop off sites for unused medications.
In the fall, most Minnesotans do a good job keeping storm drains clear of falling leaves but it’s a good idea to keep debris away from drains year around. In a way, these access points are like having riverfront property. Winter salt and gravel, lawn clippings, pet waste, and litter left in the street eventually wind up in storm sewers. Adopt a storm drain and keep it clean because these sewers discharge directly into rivers.
When it comes to river flow, there are a number of man-made contributors, including over building and poor draining design. Rivers are flowing faster creating a superhighway to spread pollutants.
This one is a little more difficult. But make sure your downspouts are draining into gardens, rain barrels, or something that can absorb the water. Try to re-direct systems that empty directly into a driveway or street. Also, plant native vegetation or rain gardens to prevent rain from running off onto non-porous surfaces.
Maintaining a healthy river is more than an environmental concern. The Mississippi is a strong industrial waterway in terms of transportation, recreation and providing thousands with drinking water.