The Challenge, the Solution and the National Park Service
It has only been relatively recently that the cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul stopped "turning their backs" to the river that played such an important role in transportation, power, and industry as the cities developed. St. Cloud is still contemplating ways to more effectively embrace the river as a recreational, natural, and economic development asset for its residents. Between the urban centers of the Twin Cities and St. Cloud, suburban, rural and agricultural activities constitute yet another way in which people interact with the great Mississippi.
As we change the way we relate to-and develop along-the Mississippi River, we change the river itself. For those of us who live or work along or near the river, practically all of what we do on land has some impact on the quality of the river, whether it be due to increased development and impervious surfaces, the production of agricultural and urban runoff, how we handle our waste, or what kind of changes we make to vegetative cover and wildlife habitat. Through all changes we make to it, the Mississippi River remains a critical part of our lives as a source of drinking and industrial water, transportation, economic development, and recreational and natural resources. Simply put: our lives as we know them depend significantly on the Mississippi River!
The good news is that there is no shortage of people whose decisions and actions can help keep the river healthy so we can continue to benefit from it. The bad news is that there are so many people whose work impacts the river that it's easy to miss opportunities to work together towards common goals.
The Mississippi River Forum is intended to increase coordination between a multidisciplinary group of practitioners and decision-makers who are not consistently aware that related work is being done by others. The Forum is also an opportunity for practitioners to connect their work to those in different fields who also impact the quality of the river.
When water quality issues are widely discussed-not only with other engineers, other biologists, other researchers, other farmers, other urban planners, other legislators, etc.-the issues become clearer and more meaningful to a broader group of individuals and communities whose work all impacts the quality of the Mississippi River, both individually and cumulatively.
The Mississippi River Forum allows these distinct groups to create and participate in knowledgeable conversations with others, and to communicate others' needs back to members of their own discipline.
It is the goal of the Mississippi River Forum to ensure that those in the position of somehow impacting the quality of the river are sharing information, knowledge, lessons learned, and debate about how best to achieve a healthy Mississippi River.
Why the National Park Service?
Although the park has always offered traditional outdoor activities-as well as a variety of visitor centers, programs and activities-the river's water quality increasingly has captured our attention. If the river suffers from poor water quality, the public's enjoyment of the river suffers, as well. The park has been particularly concerned as portions of the river have been identified as having levels of bacteria (fecal coliform, E. coli) that exceed state water quality standards.
The park can play an important role in helping to coordinate its partners and work toward better water quality in the river.