Upper Mississippi River Basin and Protection Act Kind, Klobuchar push river water quality legislation

By Mark Sommerhauser, msommerhauser@winonadailynews.com
Thursday, November 19, 2009 12:15 am , Winona Daily News

Scientists could better understand pollution in the upper Mississippi River under a proposal by Sen. Amy Klobuchar, DFL-Minn., and Rep. Ron Kind, D-Wis. Klobuchar and Kind want the U.S. Geological Survey to develop a monitoring network to track nutrient and sediment runoff into the upper Mississippi and its tributaries.

Much of that monitoring already is being done by state and local groups, particularly in Minnesota, where environmental officials say they’ve tracked water quality far more closely in the past decade. But Klobuchar and Kind say their proposal would assemble data from Minnesota, Wisconsin, Missouri, Iowa and Illinois and find "hot spots" of pollution and erosion throughout the upper Mississippi basin.

Tracking those hot spots would enable federal officials to target them for conservation initiatives, according to the legislators. Klobuchar said there’s also a benefit in helping farmers avoid losing valuable nutrients and sediment from their farmland.

"Studying soil erosion patterns will give Minnesota farmers the knowledge to combat nutrient loss in their soil," Klobuchar said in a statement.

The entire Mississippi River basin takes up more than 40 percent of the United States, and is divided into sub-basins for the upper and lower Mississippi, Missouri, Ohio and Red rivers. Scientists say the upper Mississippi contributes more than its share of the nutrient pollution that creates what they call the "dead zone" – an area where plant and animal life is severely impaired – in the Gulf of Mexico. Klobuchar and Kind’s bill makes sense to Minnesota Pollution Control Agency officials, including Bill Thompson, who manages water quality projects in southeast Minnesota. Thompson says the MPCA works with citizens and academics – including some at Winona State University – to monitor streams, rivers and lakes for pollutants such as coliform bacteria, DDT, mercury.

Scientists also monitor turbidity, or the amount of cloudy sediment in a river. In Winona County the agency monitors Mississippi River tributaries including the Whitewater River, much of which is identified as polluted on the MPCA’s impaired waterways list. Thompson says the MPCA has greatly expanded the reach and frequency of its monitoring network in the past decade. But much of the information isn’t standardized or coordinated between states, so comparing watersheds can be difficult.

Said Thompson: "The need to coordinate and pull this together into a better package – that need is out there."

Office of Congressman Kind

205 5th Avenue S., Suite 400

La Crosse, WI  54601