Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Giving voice to the land and water in the greater Minnesota River Valley

Congress moves forward with expanded organization team on options for organizing a unified and inclusive basin-wide group

In nature, we hear the voice of water when waves lap the shore, when a stream gurgles around rocks or gushes over a falls, or in winter when cracking ice booms.

Except for the rustle of leaves or grass, the land surrounding the water is mostly silent. Yet it can mold the water, in direction and in health.  

In the Minnesota River Valley, the land, soil and water also have a voice from people who use them, people who care about protecting and improving natural resources, and using them in a sustainable manner.

People organizing to do so in the greater Minnesota River valley moved forward at the second Minnesota River congress Oct. 30 in New Ulm. More than 100 people discussed ideas from previous meetings, and voted on a list of organizing options that would encompass the entire river basin – nearly 15,000 square miles in southern Minnesota.

The most votes went to developing a new organization, composed of representatives from the 13 major watersheds that comprise the basin. The idea of using an existing not-for-profit organization placed second.

In an area larger than eight states, and with a population size similar to either of the Dakotas, the challenge is daunting, “…and the people living in it can have widely differing interests,” stated an article in the Mankato Free Press on Nov. 2 following the second congress.

But after review and analysis of meetings so far, “it’s very apparent that a majority of people want to move forward in this process, and would prefer to build a new organization or use an existing one,” says Scott Sparlin, of the Coalition for a Clean Minnesota River.

Placing third and fourth in voting, respectively, were shifting the Minnesota River Watershed Alliance from an informal group to an authorized not-for-profit organization, and reviving the recommendations from the former Minnesota River Board through a new or existing entity.

“The goal is to create some type of citizen-led, basin-wide, and effective entity to assist, but not compete with, existing organizations already working to improve the natural and economic vitality of the greater Minnesota River valley,” Sparlin says. “The next phase will occur at a third congress sometime in March or April.”

At the second congress, "we asked people to rank the top themes that had emerged from the first congress (June 19) and six listening sessions and why they listed them," says Sparlin. "Then we asked about scenarios for structure and who should be represented. We also asked for new organizing team members and got a lot of positive response."

About two dozen people have volunteered to participate in small groups working on components of organization or collaboration. These could include soliciting membership, defining projects, public relations, and education, according to Sparlin. A meeting to develop components of the organization structure and potential projects is being planned for late January.

Details of the potential organization structures, themes from past meetings, and planning committee members will be posted on the Minnesota River Watershed Alliance webpage: www.watershedalliance.blogspot.com/.

A list of virtually all public and private organizations with interests in the Minnesota River basin can be found on Minnesota State University-Mankato’s Minnesota River Basin Data Center webpage, under the ‘Make a difference’ tab: http://mrbdc.mnsu.edu/.

Organization team volunteers: Warren Formo, Natalie Warren, Forrest Peterson, Brad Cobb, Cathi Fouchi, Ted Suss, Linda Meschke, Bob Finley, Doug Malchow, Peggy Kreber, Kim Musser, Jessica Nelson, Lee Sundmark, Nancy Spooner Mueller, Ron Bolduan, Rylee Main, Apollo Lammers, Dick Peterson, Beth Markhart, Mark Bosacker, Scott Sparlin, Mark Dittrich, Patrick Moore, Shannon Carpenter.