Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Don't go in the waters?

Governor Dayton has recently announced a new water quality goal to "Improve Water Quality in Minnesota 25 Percent by 2025." As the press release notes "A 25 percent reduction in bacteria will increase the number of days that the Cannon River in Goodhue and the Whitewater River in Olmsted and Winona County are safe for swimming, canoeing, and tubing."

how would you know if it's safe to wade the St. Croix River?
how would you know if it's safe to wade the St. Croix River?
Photo by J. Harrington

Without getting into technical details, at least for now, those improvements may not be noticeable by river users since I doubt that those waters are currently posted. Minnesota's Health Department informs us that "Although not required by Minnesota state law, some local public health departments or cities regularly monitor beach water quality." Goodhue, Olmstead and Winona Counties are not among those listed as doing beach monitoring, although the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency lists the Cannon River, from Belle Cr to split near mouth, in Goodhue County, as failing to meet aquatic recreation standards; as it does, in Olmstead County, the:
  • Whitewater River, Middle Fork from Headwaters to T107 R11W S34, east line; 
  • Whitewater River, North Fork from Unnamed cr to M Fk Whitewater R; 
  • Whitewater River, South Fork from Headwaters to St Charles Twp Rd 7; and, in Winona County, 
  • Whitewater River, South Fork St Charles Twp Rd 7 to T106 R10W S2, east line; and 
  • Whitewater River, South Fork T106 R10W S1, west line to N Fk Whitewater R.

Unfortunately, these river segments aren't readily identifiable in the online maps at MPCA's web site because aquatic recreation nonattainment segments are combined with those segments that don't meet standards for aquatic life. In the Duluth area, they've taken it upon themselves to compensate for such information gaps for Lake Superior beaches.

how would you know if Lake Superior is clean enough to swim in?
how would you know if Lake Superior is clean enough to swim in?
Photo by J. Harrington

One way to engage Minnesotans in improving water quality is to make it more obvious to us where our waters are unhealthy for us to wade or swim. If we wanted to get really sophisticated, we could even start working toward a clear distinction between primary and secondary water contact.

I applaud Governor Dayton for his initiative, although I believe it should be even more aggressive. The 1972 Clean Water Act Amendments set an interim goal of "swimmable water" for 1983, almost 35 years ago. The fact that we haven't come close to meeting that goal yet, and won't for the foreseeable future should be a source of shame. One reason we haven't given restoration of our water quality a higher priority is because our regulatory agencies haven't made it as clear as it needs to be that we're at risk each time we go in or near many or our ol' fishin' and swimmin' holes. As Joni Mitchell sings in Big Yellow Taxi, "you don't know what you've got 'til it's gone," and sometimes, not even then.


Walt Whitman, 1819 - 1892

Why, who makes much of a miracle?
As to me I know of nothing else but miracles,
Whether I walk the streets of Manhattan,
Or dart my sight over the roofs of houses toward the sky,
Or wade with naked feet along the beach just in the edge of the
Or stand under trees in the woods,
Or talk by day with any one I love, or sleep in the bed at night
        with any one I love,
Or sit at table at dinner with the rest,
Or look at strangers opposite me riding in the car,
Or watch honey-bees busy around the hive of a summer
Or animals feeding in the fields,
Or birds, or the wonderfulness of insects in the air,
Or the wonderfulness of the sundown, or of stars shining so
        quiet and bright,
Or the exquisite delicate thin curve of the new moon in spring;
These with the rest, one and all, are to me miracles,
The whole referring, yet each distinct and in its place.

To me every hour of the light and dark is a miracle,
Every cubic inch of space is a miracle,
Every square yard of the surface of the earth is spread with the
Every foot of the interior swarms with the same.

To me the sea is a continual miracle,
The fishes that swim—the rocks—the motion of the waves—the
        ships with men in them,
What stranger miracles are there?

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Please be kind to each other while you can.