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The Minnesota Daily

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The Minnesota Daily

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The Minnesota Daily

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River still polluted despite cleanup

The Mississippi River many know and refer to as “our backyard” sometimes contains washing machines and cars.

Such pollutants can be cleaned up May 15 when an estimated 600 Minneapolis residents are expected to come to a river cleanup day. Though this is the 11th annual effort to clean the river, Minneapolis’ main water source continues to be impaired.

Randy Kouri, president of Mississippi Corridor Neighborhood Coalition, said the river’s ecosystem is in danger of collapsing. This means the water would be so dirty it is virtually useless for any life form, he said. The water has been endangered for at least seven years, he said.

The University no longer uses the water for campus operations, but it is used for drinking water, said Greg Archer, public health specialist at the University’s Environmental Health and Safety Department.

Though Minneapolis has a treatment and testing facility to ensure drinking water’s safety, the river is still used for recreation – fishing and swimming included – at an individual’s discretion, he said.

Kouri said people find anything from appliances to sleeping bags in the river. Last year, three cars were found.

The Mississippi, which starts in Lake Itasca in Minnesota, gets polluted in many ways, he said.

“We can’t blame one person, but I don’t know who will be the one who will come and save it,” he said.

One reason the river is so dirty is because of plants that emit pollutants into the air or directly dump into the river, he said. Mercury also comes from these plants, which is a cause for fish and water contamination.

Another reason for the pollution is garbage. Whether drained from the sewer or thrown directly into the river, Kouri said it another contributor to the river’s state.

Gayle Prest, interagency coordinator for the Minneapolis Public Works Department, said another contributor to the river’s impairment is the sewer system.

City sewers that are not separated sometimes overflow because of pouring rain, sending garbage, sediment and other pollutants into the river.

With separated sewers, sewage does not go into the Mississippi. Instead, it goes into a sewage treatment facility.

Prest said 95 percent of Minneapolis’ sewer system is separated, but the remaining is combined, which contributes to the river’s state.

“We’ve been working hard. It’s a longstanding problem,” Prest said.

Minneapolis City Council member Don Samuels, 3rd Ward, said while the Mississippi is slowly getting better, there are still many needed improvements.

“Like any long-term problem, the solution is long term,” Samuels said. “It continues to be certainly better than it used to be, but it’s not acceptable.”

Samuels said one reason the sewer system is not wholly separated is because of money.

“In tough economic times, it’s hard to muster up the political clout,” he said. “There’s always a conflict between the urgent and important.”

Another difficulty with cleaning the river is awareness, he said.

“Between city committees and neighborhoods, who are keeping close eye on developments, I think that the eyes on the river are very alert,” he said. “The citizenry and leadership are really concerned about making the river clean and (an) aesthetic experience.”

Jim Anderson, co-director of Water Resources Center on the St. Paul campus, said students can help by keeping garbage off the street.

For those who have lawns, he said ensuring those lawns are kept from harmful pesticides also helps the water from being contaminated with them.

Kouri said concerned individuals can get involved by not only contacting their neighborhood groups, but also by “developing a relationship with the river.”

“People can understand the river is theirs,” he said. “People need to see the water, touch the water, own the water, claim the water.”

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