Years of effort by groups and individuals working to improve the Minnesota River could be getting a boost from a national recognition program highlighting major river basins. The Minnesota River Watershed Alliance has nominated the Minnesota River to become a “National Blueway.”
In recent years the Minnesota River has received much attention as a natural resource under stress from development. In the broad, fertile river basin that covers much of southern Minnesota, both natural forces and land uses lead to water pollution from excess sediment and nutrients.
The U.S. Dept. of Interior (DOI) established the National Blueway System in 2012 to promote a network of nationally significant rivers and their watersheds that are highly valued as economic, recreational, social, and ecological assets.
The Connecticut River spanning four states in New England was the first to receive National Blueway designation. In November of last year, U.S. Department of Interior Senior Advisor Rebecca Wodder visited Granite Falls as a part of a tour of select sites along the Minnesota River in support of a nomination.
According to Granite Falls Chamber Director Nicole Zempel, local advocates were originally hopeful that the Minnesota River might be designated by the program in time for 50th Anniversary events held downtown this summer, but questions about the federal program elsewhere in the country have slowed progress.
“There seems to be a misconception about the powers it grants the federal government, which is too bad because it has the potential to be a great asset for the community.”
The recent opposition to the Blueway program surfaced in Arkansas and Missouri, where the White River had been the second to receive the designation. Since local support and control is paramount, the DOI accepted a request to withdraw the White River designation, based on Republican fears surrounding property rights and watershed control, and placed the program temporarily on hold.
The blueways order explicitly states that it is not intended to affect the use of private property or exercise any new regulatory authority.
“One of the major reasons I joined this effort is that the Blueway designation does not bring any new regulations or restrictions on private property owners or local units of government, said Ted Suss, one of the local project organizers. “It does commit the various federal agencies to work cooperatively with each other, our local governments, local organizations, and individual citizens like myself as we move forward with economic development and conservation plans affecting the Minnesota River.”
According to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, the blueways program is on hold, meaning no new blueways designations, until political issues surrounding the program are ironed out.
National Blueway nomination
Many public and private organizations have been working individually and collectively to meet the challenge of improving water quality in the river and its entire drainage basin. A National Blueway designation will recognize and reward the work of those partnerships and provide a platform to encourage expanded collaboration.
Page 2 of 2 - More than 50 public and private organizations from all sectors supported the nomination of the Minnesota River for designation as a National Blueway, submitted by the Minnesota River Watershed Alliance, and sponsored by the Minnesota Dept. of Natural Resources and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
The nomination states: “The Minnesota River Watershed will become a model for habitat connectivity and resiliency in an agricultural to urban landscape; improved water quality and a more stable hydrograph; increased public access for outdoor recreation, and economic vitality based on a legacy of natural, cultural, historical, and agricultural resource conservation and sustainability. We can accomplish this vision because there is a highly engaged and informed watershed citizenry and Blueway Partnership Group.”