Exploring and Protecting Our Great River

Minnesotans Mike Crowley and his wife Kate are exploring, writing, and talking about the Mississippi River. In 2010, they trekked more than 1550 miles around Lake Superior, acting on their growing concern for freshwater resources. 

In 2010, my wife, Kate Crowley, and I trekked more than 1550 miles around Lake Superior, which represents 10% of all the surface freshwater on Earth, because of our growing concern for freshwater resources.  

We believe that taking clean water resources for granted has hurt us in the past and will harm us in the future if not addressed. We have big decisions to make about how to protect our water. The CEO of the international food company Nestle has suggested that water should be privatized so that it is not wasted, but I’m concerned that’s an attempt by the world’s largest bottler of freshwater to make more profit and increase their own power. We can’t stand by and waste this resource, nor can we give control of it to a corporation. We must demand better water quality.  

When Kate and I were off the shore and in the midst of Lake Superior, we scooped our cups in the water and drank it.  This action was impossible in the bays due to the amount of pollution and harmful chemicals. We were concerned about the threats to this great body of water and we wanted to alert people and demonstrate that fixing a damaged system is much more expensive than preventing its harm.

Now we’ve embarked on a new exploration of the Mississippi River, sparked by concern for another of the three distribution systems that begin in Minnesota – the Great Lakes, the Great River, and the Red River to Hudson Bay.  What do they all have in common? In each case, the water flows into Minnesota through the natural actions of meteorology. When nutrients and sediments flow off of eroded land, they begin to fill lakes downstream. The best example of this is perhaps Lake Pepin, but Lake Superior can also be subject to increased sedimentation.

This year, we are exploring, writing, and talking about the Mississippi River. The Mississippi flows through Lakes Irving, Bemidji, Wolf, Andrusia, Cass, Winnibigoshish, Little Winnibigoshish, Blackwater, and Pepin, plus numerous manmade reservoirs. After the St Louis River enters Lake Superior, the waters go to Lake Huron, St Clair River, Lake St Clair, Detroit River, Lake Erie, Niagara River, Lake Ontario, and the St Lawrence. Furthermore, numerous tributaries feed each lake and river along the way. This all goes to show that the water quality downstream occurs as a result of the collective action of several governments upstream. 31 states as well as the U.S. and Canadian federal governments all play important roles in maintaining the quality of the water that will eventually drain into the Mississippi.  

We cannot afford to let any state pollute their streams, lakes, and ground water and then act as if it is not anyone else’s business. As we have learned throughout our education – the water we have today is the same water we will always have.  The resource is both essential and limited and our responsibilities are timeless and essential.  

Septics have to been upgraded, shoreline degradation has to be stopped, commercial use of the waters needs regulation, mining has to be controlled and stopped if it cannot be done safely. We need more than rain gardens as we plan and develop communities and chemicals cannot be applied to our fields as they often either move to the groundwater or wash into the river. The dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico is now the size of New Jersey due to agricultural pollution further upstream from states like Minnesota. Furthermore, we have lost delta wetlands equal to the size of Delaware and Rhode Island. That is three states worth of destruction at the end of our GREAT RIVER.

Respect our waters, protect our waters, and understand our waters – it is the future of life on the planet.  

You can read more about Mike and Kate’s journey at fullcirclesuperior.org or from their book Going Full Circle, a 1,555-mile Walk Around the World’s Largest Lake and at the website http://www.fullcirclesuperior.org/