Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Minnesota River in line for ‘National Blueway’ designation

News Release
Contact: Forrest Peterson, 320-441-6972; Scott Roemhildt, 507-359-6014; Scott Sparlin, 507-276-2280; Brad Cobb, 507-637-2828; Ted Suss, 507-828-3377.

Minnesota River in line for ‘National Blueway’ designation

Along with the usual excitement at the annual Minnesota River History event May 17-19 in Granite Falls, local groups are awaiting word from federal officials about receiving National Blueway designation for the Minnesota River.

In May 2012 the U.S. Dept. of Interior established the National Blueway System to promote a network of nationally significant rivers and their watersheds that are highly valued as economic, recreational, social, and ecological assets.

“The manager at the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge at the time, Charlie Blair, recognized that the Minnesota River was a natural fit for the program based on all the good things he saw going on in the Minnesota River basin,” says Jeanne Holler, deputy manager at the refuge.

If the designation is granted, the Minnesota would be the third major U.S. river to become a National Blueway. The Connecticut River spanning four states in New England, and the White River in Arkansas and Missouri, were the first to receive Blueway designation.

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.  As it courses its way into the Twin Cities metropolitan area, it faces the challenges that accompany industry and urban development, Holler says.
“The benefits are that it draws positive focus to the river and the watershed,” Holler says. “It highlights and celebrates what is going right in the watershed. It not only creates synergy by bringing people together around a common vision, but also helps garner grant dollars by bestowing credibility. I think Patrick Moore (former Clean Up the River Environment director) said it best, that this designation is like Good Housekeeping’s ‘seal of approval’.”

The Minnesota River begins at Big Stone Lake on the western border with South Dakota. Its 317-mile, winding journey flows southeast to Mankato, then northeast to its confluence with the Mississippi River at Fort Snelling. This large basin drains nearly 20 percent of Minnesota’s land area, about 14,918 square miles (9,547,520 acres), plus smaller portions in South Dakota (1,081,600 acres), Iowa (216,960 acres) and North Dakota (3,200 acres).

While Big Stone Lake is widely recognized at the source of the Minnesota River, it is fed by the Little Minnesota and Whetstone rivers, which have their source in South Dakota. The Little Minnesota River accounts for 90 percent of the water entering Big Stone Lake, and begins as a small stream descending from the high coteau in Sica Hollow State Park.

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.

Nearly 50 public and private organizations supported the nomination of the Minnesota River for designation as a National Blueway. It was 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 Minnesota River Watershed Alliance is a watershed-wide network of individuals from private organizations and public agencies, and citizens who meet quarterly and work on projects that support and benefit the Minnesota River basin. It will be launching a website for the Blueway project at:

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.”

Benefits of National Blueway designation include:

·         Cabinet-level recognition and prestige.

·         Marketing value and recognition tools offered by federal and partner organizations.

·         Memoranda of Understanding (MOU) and Cooperative Agreements with federal agencies, and commitments of support from public and private partners.

·         Eligibility for federal technical and monetary assistance over a five-year period to achieve partnership goals, including development of an online river atlas in collaboration with stakeholders. Potential for initial start-up grant.

·         Eligibility for National Blueway System specific grants to stakeholder partnerships for establishment and expansion, and for river or watershed projects.