In this guide, we highlight the “top 10” policy actions that decision-makers can take to help protect and preserve the Mississippi River for future generations.
While this list is far from comprehensive, the actions below represent excellent opportunities to greatly improve the health of the Mississippi River. These recommendations will enhance public health and safety, improve recreation, protect drinking water, and ensure the economic vitality of communities throughout the Mississippi River watershed.
Control the Spread of Asian Carp
Asian carp are invasive, exotic fish that can have potentially serious consequences for aquatic life and recreation throughout the state. We recommend a three-step strategy to prevent the establishment of Asian carp in the state.
- Stop the spread of Asian carp through targeted lock closure, especially at the Upper St. Anthony Falls Lock and Dam and the Ford Dam (Lock and Dam #1).
- Slow the spread of Asian carp by reducing recreational traffic through locks and dams, limiting overall lockage hours, and installing fish “bubble” and electric barriers. The Minnesota Legislature has approved funding for the installation of Asian carp barriers at the Ford Dam (Lock and Dam #1).
- Control established Asian carp populations with the development of new technologies to biologically control carp. Enhance monitoring and research in partnership with the newly-established Aquatic Invasive Species Research Center at the University of Minnesota.
In addition, improvements to water quality and aquatic habitat in the river will support healthy native fish populations and are among the best ways to prevent aggressive Asian carp infestation throughout the Minnesota, St. Croix, and upper Mississippi River watersheds.
Conduct a Comprehensive Mississippi River Fish Survey
Natural resource staff must have the information they need to effectively manage aquatic life in the Mississippi River.
Unfortunately, the state lacks comprehensive fish survey data. While the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is allocating additional resources to collecting baseline fish survey data, the state and other local partners should fund and implement regular and comprehensive evaluations of fish and other aquatic life in the river.
Establish River Phosphorus and Nitrate Standards
The state currently does not have standards to protect aquatic life and recreation from excess phosphorus or nitrate in the metro Mississippi River. These contaminants can compromise aquatic life and recreation, and are especially problematic downstream in Lake Pepin and the Gulf of Mexico. The state cannot effectively control these pollutants without science-based water quality standards.
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) should adopt comprehensive river nutrient standards within the next three years.
Phase-Out the Use of Triclosan in Antibacterial Soap
Triclosan is a common additive in anti-bacterial hand soap and a variety of household products. Numerous studies highlight risks associated with its household use, as well as toxins formed as triclosan degrades in the environment.
While the U.S. Food and Drug Administration found that household use of antibacterial products provides no health benefits over plain soap and water, and the American Medical Association recommends that triclosan not be used in the home, triclosan remains widely used throughout the region. The State of Minnesota, in partnership with state and local agencies, should pursue a triclosan phase-out program for non-medical use of antibacterial soap beginning no later than 2015.
Adopt a Statewide Coal Tar Sealant Ban
Coal tar sealants are a major source of PAH (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons) contamination in metro area stormwater ponds, and threaten to become a massive long-term financial liability for the state. As of August 2012, 24 Minnesota communities, along with all state agencies, have passed restrictions on the use of coal tar sealants.
While some major manufacturers and home improvement chains have phased out production and distribution, it is time for Minnesota to follow the State of Washington’s lead and institute a comprehensive statewide ban on the sale or application of coal tar sealants.
Create a Statewide Pharmaceutical Management Plan
Unused and expired pharmaceuticals, including prescription medications, are frequently disposed of down the drain, exposing surface waters and groundwater to potential contamination. Currently, pharmaceutical disposal programs vary greatly at the local level, and no statewide pharmaceutical management plan is in place.
The State of Minnesota should develop a statewide plan, including a network of disposal sites and a comprehensive outreach and education program, within the next five years.
Establish a Statewide Agricultural Pollution Control System
According to the U.S Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), agriculture is the leading cause of water impairments nationwide, and is a major source of runoff pollution to the Mississippi River. While most field agriculture operations remain exempt from Clean Water Act regulations, the state has the authority to hold agribusiness operations accountable to Minnesota’s clean water standards.
The state should:
- Require counties to enforce existing stream and ditch protection rules to ensure that vegetative filter strips are in place to clean farm runoff before it reaches our waters.
- Implement the recommendations of the 2011 Minnesota Water Sustainability Framework. The framework offers a template for developing local agricultural watershed plans that use a farmer-led, performance-based approach to help farm operations hold themselves accountable to state water quality standards.
Continue Conservation Investments in the U.S. Farm Bill
The U.S. Farm Bill plays a vital role in shaping crop production and conservation across Minnesota. High commodity crop prices and increasingly intensive row crop production put enormous pressure on Minnesota’s land and water resources.
Any proposed cuts to conservation funding or basic stewardship requirements represent a major threat to our nation’s water resources. Congress should continue investing in the Farm Bill’s conservation programs while maintaining basic conservation compliance standards for any farm operation receiving public subsidies.
Maximize Return on Minnesota’s Clean Water Investments
Through the Clean Water, Land, and Legacy Amendment, Minnesotans fund a wide range of projects to reduce runoff pollution throughout the state. While many projects hold individual merit, Amendment funds are not currently targeted to maximize clean water outcomes.
The MPCA should develop a statewide project priority list for runoff pollution control projects, and fund projects with the highest pollutant-reduction-per-dollar value first, regardless of where they are located. Minnesotans expect the state to maximize returns on their clean water investments.
Establish Statewide Stormwater Runoff Standards
Currently, stormwater runoff controls for new development vary greatly by community, with each local jurisdiction applying its own unique standards.
Minnesota should adopt statewide minimum stormwater runoff standards for all new residential and commercial development that protect water quality while respecting the needs of the development community.
Please note: The State of the River Report Policy Guide is a product of Friends of the Mississippi River, developed independently of the National Park Serve – Mississippi National River and Recreation Area.