A prominent river advocacy group missed an opportunity in the past week to highlight the plight of Minnesota's south-metro stretch of the Mississippi River.
American Rivers, a respected advocacy group, compiles an annual list of the nation's most endangered waterways. The only Minnesota river to crack its top 10 was the St. Croix.
The beautiful St. Croix -- whose clear waters make it a favorite of boaters and anglers -- made the list not because it's under environmental threat but because it faces a political one: the proposed replacement for the antiquated Stillwater Lift Bridge.
The Mississippi did merit a special mention on the group's list. But that afterthought of a listing downplays the real environmental trouble that the south-metro Mississippi is in. The information accompanying the listing failed to note the main threat to this stretch of the river: the sediment swept downstream by the troubled Minnesota River. This sediment threatens aquatic life and is in the process of turning Lake Pepin into a ditch.
If "political threat" were the main criteria for making the top 10, then the south-metro Mississippi should have been rated No. 1. The battle to restore this part of the river is political. The agricultural industry has to be convinced to embrace conservation measures, and federal farm policies need to be changed to encourage this.
Thoughtless lawmakers are also a hazard, particularly this year. A measure intended to increase the amount of a pollutant cities can release into the Mississippi during winter months won wide support from Minnesota's Republican lawmakers. Lawmakers are also threatening to repeal a 2009 law that started the long process of modernizing the outdated regulatory framework for the Twin Cities Mississippi River corridor.
That 2009 measure received bipartisan support, with then-Gov. Tim Pawlenty signing the bill. After some of the riverfront's local landed gentry carped about a "government takeover," momentum slowed. The Department of Natural Resources, which got a $500,000 appropriation to update these land-use standards, missed a key deadline in the rule update process. Lawmakers are now using that as an excuse to repeal the 2009 law instead of chastising the bureaucratic foot-dragging and figuring out a way to update protections for this marquee stretch of the river.
American Rivers is understandably concerned about the new Stillwater bridge. But this year's river list would have done more good by highlighting the Minnesota threats to the Mississippi and how out-of-step legislators are in a state that overwhelmingly approved a 2008 sales tax increase to protect its waters and arts.