Nonprofit coalition advocates initiative to preserve Mississippi headwaters

Study indicates $490-$500 million in direct and indirect benefits

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A coalition of environmental nonprofits are pushing an initiative to clean up the Mississippi headwaters—an extensive preservation project expected to cost $400-$600 million, but save or accrue hundreds of millions annually for Minnesotans across the state.

"Basically we're calling out that we're here where the Mississippi begins. The waters are still clean, we know that, but conversation of natural lands is going on fast due to urban growth, production, all kinds of land conversation," said Todd Holman, the Mississippi headwaters program director with the Nature Conservancy. "We have an opportunity to make a business case along with a conservation case along with a 'how this affects real people' case."

In a joint report by the Nature Conservancy and Ecolab, advocates indicate the Mississippi headwaters—about 13 million acres of forests, grasslands, wetlands, lakes and rivers in central Minnesota that feed into the Mississippi—are vulnerable, evidenced by spiking amounts of nitrogen, phosphorus and chloride, among other pollutants in the water.

While the waterways remain mostly clean, researchers state, actions have to be taken to ensure the Mississippi doesn't share the same fate as the polluted Minnesota River. Land conversion—often for agriculture or urban development, among other purposes—is rapidly eroding much of Minnesota's natural grasslands, forests and water bodies.

"The Mississippi headwaters are critical to the whole state's quality of life, not just local. Here we know the river, we live by it, we experience fishing and recreation," Holman said during a phone interview Friday, April 5. "But, it's recognizing the larger value to the greater part of Minnesota. There's an economic impact for all Minnesotans." 

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Source, image(s), credits & more: Brainerd Dispatch | Gabriel Lagarde