Looking out for the river

MARSHALL – A group of outdoor enthusiasts and people generally concerned about the Minnesota River are hoping to create a team of people who are passionate enough about the body of water to get together and improve efforts on making the river the best it can be.

The first Minnesota River Congress will take place Thursday, June 19, at Turner Hall in New Ulm. The schedule begins with afternoon events, followed by dinner and discussion in the evening. The public is invited to attend.

“There are several people planning it, said Ted Suss of Wabasso. “I think all of us feel there is a need for more coordination amongst everything from the watershed district, to the municipalities, to the state agencies across the Minnesota River Valley in a variety of areas ranging from water quality improvement to increasing tourism and use.”

The Minnesota River Valley covers about one-quarter of the state and offers valuable crop and livestock land. The lake flows from Big Stone Lake on the state’s western border, about 318 miles to the Mississippi at Fort Snelling.

The former Minnesota River Board disbanded in April, but a group of people believe there is a need to create more unity and harmony among the groups working to sustain the land and water in the valley.

The main purpose of the first congress will be to discuss the merits of having a citizen-led, basin-wide organization, and how it could be structured, a news release from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency said. Results of the discussion would be shared in the coming months at various regional locations.

A second congress will then be convened in the fall to review the actions and steps resulting from the first congress, and to move forward.

“Some of us would like to have come out of this a basin-wide, watershed-wide entity, non-governmental, non-regulatory, probably a not-for-profit, to which everybody from farmers to canoers to environmentalists to community officials all belong,” said Suss. “We would like to create a formal forum.”

Suss said the majority of watersheds in the country have a governing body like the one he hopes to create for the Minnesota River. The Red River Valley, he said, has had one for several years to address chronic flooding issues in that area.

“When it comes to seeking funding or legislation for some initiative, it’s important to have an entity that can speak for the entire valley,” he said. “We want people there with different perspectives who represent all geographical areas. This is important for people to be a part of; we want their input.”

Co-sponsors currently include: Minnesota River Watershed Alliance, Coalition for a Clean Minnesota River, Friends of the Minnesota Valley, Minnesota Agricultural Water Resource Center, Water Resource Center-Minnesota State University, Minnesota Dept. of Natural Resources, Minnesota Earth Sabbath, Clean Up the River Environment, Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, and Wild River Academy.

Groups and organizations involved in all aspects of the Minnesota River Valley are being invited to bring posters and other displays with information about their projects and initiatives to a “networking fair” from 3-5 p.m. At 6:15 p.m. students from Wild River Academy will talk and show pictures about their adventures on the Minnesota River.