Friday, January 24, 2014

Minnesota River group moves ahead with ‘Blueway’ initiative despite setback

The Minnesota River Watershed Alliance voted at its quarterly meeting in Hutchinson Jan. 21 to continue working on the Minnesota River Blueway initiative, to implement its goals, and seek support from federal agencies. 

Over the past year the Alliance – an informal, citizen-led network in the Minnesota River Basin – worked to gather widespread support and submitted a nomination to the U.S. Department of Interior, requesting Blueway designation for the Minnesota River watershed.

The 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.

Recently, the DOI decided to terminate the program, primarily due to concerns with the program that arose in the Whitewater River basin in Arkansas, and possible impacts from the federal budget sequestration.

“Although the Department of the Interior discontinued the National Blueway Program, to the great disappointment of those who worked so hard to obtain a National Blueway designation for the Minnesota River Valley, the Minnesota River Blueway Initiative is still an active program,” says Ted Suss of Wabasso.

“The Blueway Initiative will bring together people from all industries, all interest groups, and all communities in the Minnesota River Valley to continue the already successful efforts to clean up the Minnesota River, increase public use of the Minnesota River as a tourism and recreation asset, to expand economic development in the valley, and to make the Minnesota River Valley an even better place to live, farm, play, operate a business, and to visit.”

There was much discussion at the Jan. 21 meeting about using the “Blueway” name. Among the viewpoints, the term is ambiguous and doesn’t clearly and quickly convey its meaning. It may have a negative response from those who may fear it as a means to use public funds to acquire private land. While acknowledging the concerns, it was understood that the name is needed for the time being, and work on branding and marketing will continue.

Recommendation from the Blueway working team as adopted by the Alliance:

1)      Continue with the Blueway initiative.

2)      Continue to implement the goals in the Blueway nomination as the Alliance goals for 2014, and empower the Blueway working team to continue its work.

3)      Formally request that the DOI and local U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to explore options for a regional memorandum of understanding among federal agencies to work on the identified goals.

“Based on conversations with senior DOI officials, the Alliance hopes to enter into a memorandum of understanding with the Department of Interior and other federal agencies that will outline a working arrangement and include commitments of federal agency support that will very nearly match the working arrangements and federal commitments of support as a National Blueway designation would have provided,” says Suss.

The next Minnesota River Watershed Alliance meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, April 15, at Ridgewater College in Hutchinson. A potluck meal begins at 6 p.m., and the meeting at 7 p.m. All are welcome to attend. More information about the Alliance is on the web at:

Contacts: Ted Suss, 507-828-3377; Forrest Peterson, 320-441-6972; Scott Sparlin, 507-276-2280; Brad Cobb, 320-493-4695

Saturday, January 04, 2014

Federal Blueway Program Discontinued

The Department of Interior has discontinued the federal Blueway program.

The Minnesota River Clean Up Movement started with the grassroots and that still is where its strength lies.

Tremendous strides have been made and a statewide coalition has been formed and the work will continue.

We have seen government commitment wax and wane over the years, but the citizens who love this river remain.

The landowners and county governments and state agencies who care for the parks and the fields are still here.

The need to grow this coalition will not subside because the Secretary of Interior has made this decision to terminate the designation program.

The Minnesota River Watershed Alliance is still intact and it will continue to meet the way we always have for the past 8 years -- without a staff, without a budget, with multiple leaders who are motivated by their passion for the river and desire to creatively collaborate for its betterment.

We invite you to attend our next meeting coming up on Tuesday Jan 21 at 6 p.m. at the Ridgewater College Campus in Hutchinson MN.  We will gather to consider our options and come up with new ideas and initiatives like we always have -- and it will be fun!

Thursday, January 02, 2014

January 2014 Quarterly Meeting and Potluck

The campaign promoting the designation of the Minnesota River as a national Blueway likely will be among the top agenda items at the Minnesota River Watershed Alliance meeting Tuesday, Jan. 21 at Ridgewater College in Hutchinson. Other topics at the meeting may include the future of Minnesota River basin organization in the wake of the Minnesota River Board pending dissolution, and consideration of other possible projects for the Alliance in the coming year. The meeting begins at 7 p.m., preceded by a potluck meal at 6 p.m. All are welcome! Bring a potluck item to share.

The Alliance has sent a letter to Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell reaffirming its support of the Blueway nomination. Hundreds of postcards with the same message have been distributed around the basin, and are being mailed to Jewell and the Dept. of Interior. For anyone wishing to send them, post cards are still available at these locations: Clean Up the River Environment in Montevideo, DNR in New Ulm, Friends of the Minnesota Valley, Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge in Bloomington, Redwood Area Development Corp., Granite Falls Chamber of Commerce, MPCA in Willmar, and from individuals including Scott Sparlin, Cathi Fouchi, and Ted Suss. On Dec. 23 Scott placed nearly 200 postcards in the mail to the DOI. You can also download postcards from the Minnesota River Blueway News and Events webpage, to be signed and mailed.

On the social media scene, the Minnesota River Blueway Photo Contest is posted on the Minnesota River Blueway Facebook page (426 Likes so far and counting). The Minnesota River Watershed Alliance is a citizen-led network that has created and held a space for watershed wide interaction for the past eight years. The National Blueways System seeks to align the programs and efforts of national government agencies with the work and priorities set by grassroots citizens, non-profit organizations and state agencies that have learned how to work together on a watershed scale.