River Congress seeks public support, government funding | News, Sports, Jobs

For the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic began, the Minnesota River Congress — a citizen-led group focusing on the natural resources and economic health of the Minnesota River Basin — will meet June 15 in Mankato.

The public is invited to the free Kato Ballroom event, which is intended to promote citizen participation from all communities of interest and take cooperative action to protect, conserve and improve the Minnesota River Basin.

A number of state leaders will talk about the need for water storage, starting with Gov. Tim Walz’s online address at 7 p.m., followed by John Jaschke and Rita Weaver from the Board of Water and Soil Resources; Sarah Strommen, Department of Natural Resources commissioner; Katrina Kessler, Pollution Control Agency commissioner; Mark Schnobrich, South Central Soil & Water Conservation District director; and Mark Dittrich from the Department of Agriculture.

Izaak Walton League leaders will also speak. The public will have the opportunity to give direction and input to the River Congress Action Board on it water storage initiative, which is now funded at $1 million for each of the next two years.

“This is a great first step, establishes the program in statute; however, that amount of resources won’t go very far in realistically addressing the scope of the need,” said Scott Sparlin, a musician from New Ulm who is a facilitator for the River Congress. “What is needed now are the kind of resources that will establish all forms of water storage throughout the entire watershed.

“This will require a much larger commitment from the state of Minnesota along with federal support. We plan to continue to advocate for that support. This is where the public can assist in our collective efforts. There will be opportunity for input regarding moving forward, and we need people to help create those paths.”

Sparlin said small streams are the answer to a lot of sedimentation that comes from channel erosion.

“That is a big part of why Lake Pepin is filling in, due to events that happen when the ground isn’t protected,” he said. “It’s more than just the main stem of the river or the river itself. It’s about our lakes, streams and roads. We’re hoping people can rally around the idea that we need a comprehensive look at how we store water.”

Sparlin said nobody is mandated to do anything, so everything is voluntary.

“If there is money available, property owners will be compensated for land losses,” he said.

Sparlin said initiative funding sources include private foundations and Legacy amendments.

Supporting entities include the cities of New Ulm, Henderson, Granite Falls, Eden Prairie, Arlington, Amboy, Olivia, Mankato, Nicollet, Redwood Falls, Springfield, Winthrop, St. Peter and Le Sueur and many county soil & water conservation districts.

For more information, visit mnrivercongress.org.

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