Monday, July 29, 2013

News Release: Minnesota River group pursues ‘National Blueway’ designation

News Release


Contacts: Ted Suss, 507-828-3377; Forrest Peterson, 320-441-6972; Scott Sparlin, 507-276-2280; Brad Cobb, 507-637-2828.

Minnesota River group pursues ‘National Blueway’ designation

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.

The Minnesota River Watershed Alliance (MRWA) 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 has a website for the Blueway project at:

A delegation from the Blueways nomination team will meet at noon, Monday, Aug. 26 at the Joseph Nicollet Tower and Museum in Sisseton, SD. There will be a visit to the Little Minnesota River source at Sica Hollow State Park, followed by an open house/ community listening session from 4:30 to 7:30 p.m. at the  City Hall Community Room in Sisseton.

“The landscape , the terrain and views in the Sisseton area are amazing, and this is a great opportunity to strengthen our upstream/downstream network through this Blueway designation,” says Patrick Moore of the MRWA. For more information about the event, contact Moore at, or 320-841-1487.

Program paused to address questions and concerns

In response to questions elsewhere about the Blueway program, the MRWA is expanding efforts to show local support, and disseminate accurate information. Recently, 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, and placed the program temporarily on hold.

“One of the aspects of the National Blueway Program that most excites me is that this is a voluntary program that allows private citizens like myself and local not-for-profit organizations to join together and ask that a river be designated as a National Blueway,” says Ted Suss, one of the local project organizers.

“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, but 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.”

More than 50 organizations support 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.

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.”

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.

Little Minnesota River source in South Dakota

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 as 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.