Protecting Traditions by Making New Ones
On hot summer July days, many of us turn to our local creeks, rivers and lakes to cool down and have some fun. Going swimming is as much of an American summer tradition as apple pie and Independence Day fireworks.
Unfortunately, too often these days we see lakes and beaches closed due to algae blooms that make it unsafe for swimming. These algae blooms are triggered by excess fertilizer run off from farms. The Mississippi River acts as a highway for these excess nutrients transporting them to the Gulf of Mexico, resulting in a dead zone where little life can survive. Tradition demands we protect clean water for future generations to enjoy as well, so this means we have to clean up our act.
So what changes have we made to improve and protect clean water?
Individually, last year 80% of River Citizens reported supporting local farmers who integrate responsible farming techniques like preventing erosion and reducing or eliminating fertilizer from running off their land into local waterways. More than half of River Citizens also reported reducing their use of fertilizer, planting rain gardens to help filter pollutants and voting for leaders who support River friendly programs. (Share your actions in this year’s River Citizen survey, and be entered to win an autographed award winning Roadtrip with a Raindrop book about the Mississippi River by fellow River Citizen Gayle Harper.)
We are doing a great job at taking action in our daily lives, and collectively we are also influencing national policy.
- River Citizens spoke up about the importance of the Farm Bill on water quality by:
- supporting programs like the Conservation Stewardship Program and the Environmental Quality Incentives Program to help farmers plan and implement conservation practices
- reconnecting basic conservation measures to receiving crop insurance (in fact, a record number of farmers (over 98%) practice essential conservation methods)
- helping designate the Mississippi River as a Critical Conservation Area, one of the eight areas to receive targeted funding to improve the health of the soil, wildlife and water
- River Citizens supported clarifying the Clean Water Act to protect the River’s smaller tributaries and wetlands since we cannot have a healthier Mississippi River unless we keep the water feeding into it clean.
- Members of the Mississippi River Network spoke directly to members of Congress and other government agencies like the Army Corps of Engineers in February and in June to advocate for scientifically sound River policies to protect the communities and wildlife along the River.
Farmers Making A Difference
This month we learned the forecast for the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico is still nearly 2,000 miles larger than our national goal. It will take time, but gradually thoughtful practical programs like the one’s mentioned above will decrease the size of the dead zone and make our neighborhood lakes and creeks fishable and swimmable again. This progress shows there can be new traditions established to improve water quality.
They are important steps forward, but the issue is far from being resolved, so we will continue to alert you when there is an opportunity to support policies which improve the River’s water quality.
For now, let’s celebrate laying the groundwork for decreased nutrient pollution by hearing about the progress being made in farm practices from farmers themselves. Watch these excellent videos created by the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) about the progress of Mississippi River-area farmers: “Farming the Upstream” and “Protecting the Gulf.”
In time, our Big River will no longer be the highway to the dead zone.
1 Mississippi Campaign Manager
In other news: we are happy to announce Maria Lee has joined 1 Mississippi as the Outreach Assistant based in the Twin Cities. Read more about Maria and her connection to the River on our Team Page. Feel free to email her or your local Assistant with questions or to volunteer!
River Citizens are taking responsibility for their corner of the world by changing their lawn care habits or adding new ones. Besides rain barrels, what are other ways we can help reduce flooding and improve water quality?
a. Utilize permeable pavement
b. Dig ditches called swales to move and store water
c. Plant trees
d. Plant native plants
e. All of the above
Find out the answer in this month’s featured blog, “7 Ways to Reduce Your Land’s Impact On Flooding”