What can we do to save the St. Croix?

Kids in a Minnesota Wetland
A couple kids help restore a Minnesota wetland. Restoring wetlands helps protect the St. Croix. Phosphorus-laden soil settles out of the still water of a bog and never reaches the river.
Sewage Treatment Plant
Most sewage treatment plants release phosphorus. Upgraded plants can remove the chemical from wastewater.
Image courtesy Fluoride's memories
Storm Drain
Most developments are planned to get rid of water as quickly as possible. New designs let water exit more slowly, reducing erosion. Image courtesy zachklein

Big problems need big solutions

In 2004 researchers identified phosphorus as the biggest threat to the St. Croix River. The group, led by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and the Wisconsin and Minnesota Departments of Natural Resources, recommended a 20% reduction in the amount of phosphorus in the water to keep the river healthy.

However, the phosphorus comes from thousands and thousands of small sources, some quite indirect. Solving a problem like this requires cooperation and political action. In 2005, a new law restricted the use of phosphorus-based fertilizers. Other helpful steps would include:

  • Upgrading sewage treatment plants to reduce the amount of phosphorus released.
  • Changing zoning laws to encourage developments to reduce run-off.
  • Reducing erosion on farmlands, and helping farmers monitor fertilizer use so they don't saturate their soils.
  • Restoring wetlands, so they can remove phosphorus from water before it reaches the river.

Some areas of the watershed contribute more to the problem than others. Citizens and policy makers will need to focus efforts where they will have the greatest impact.

So, what's all this gonna cost me?

It depends on what we do. Some strategies, such as upgrading sewage treatment plants, are expensive but don't require much change in how individuals live their lives. Other tactics, such as new ways of designing and building cities, can actually be cheaper than the way we build them now, but may require us to think differently about how we use land.

The people within the St. Croix basin may carry the brunt of the burden of protecting the river. But is that fair? People throughout Minnesota and Wisconsin enjoy the St. Croix. All of us have a stake in keeping the river healthy. And the problems facing the St. Croix are common to lakes and rivers throughout this region. Sooner or later, we'll all be facing the same problems.

Living with a healthy river

The phosphorus in the St. Croix comes from human activity. The only way to reduce it is to change our habits.

Farming will continue in the area—we all need to eat. And cities will continue to grow—we need places to live. However, to keep the river healthy, we need to find new ways to keep the phosphorus where we put it—where it's doing good—and keep it out of the river, where it does harm.

The proposals listed above will help us live side-by-side with the river for many years to come.