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Estuary Champions Discuss Needs of St. Louis River

Beth McGee and Gene Clark.

Beth McGee and Gene Clark visit the Thompson Hill Overlook in Duluth for a view of the St. Louis River Estuary. McGee, with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, and Clark, with the Wisconsin Sea Grant, participated in a public science panel in March.

The St. Louis River Estuary and its bigger, badder relative— the Chesapeake Bay— are a thousand miles apart, disproportionate in nearly every way, and beset by different problems. However, the two systems share something important: estuary champions. They both have organizations composed of tireless advocates for environmental quality who aren’t afraid to slog through mud or through legislation.

“The St. Louis River and the Chesapeake Bay are fortunate to have people putting time and effort into protecting their environmental integrity,” said Beth McGee, senior water quality scientist with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF). McGee was the keynote speaker at “A Tale of Two Estuaries: Restoring the Endangered Ecosystems of the Chesapeake Bay and St. Louis River,” a presentation and discussion celebrating Lake Superior’s estuary. “It’s essential to build a political and public will to move forward,” she said.

At the request of the Minnesota and Wisconsin Sea Grant Programs, McGee joined four more local presenters* for the science panel discussion. Organized as part of the St. Louis River Citizen Action Committee’s (CAC) 10th anniversary celebration activities, the event coincidently fell on a day the United Nations set aside to focus on water and culture, World Water Day (March 22). During the science panel discussion at Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College in Superior, WI, it became evident that hope grows from steady progress towards goals.

McGee, pointing to an image of the 120 mile-long Chesapeake Bay, which is surrounded by 6 million people, gave the system a “D” for overall environmental health, citing low levels of dissolved oxygen and resulting eutrophication as its main problems. The primary culprit for these poor conditions is stormwater runoff carrying large amounts of phosphorous and nitrogen from agricultural lands.

By contrast, the St. Louis River Estuary is one-fifth as long and has only a small fraction of the Chesapeake’s human population. The St. Louis River Estuary didn’t get a formal grade; however, the panel did fault it for lingering and persistent chemical contamination. Some of these contaminants are residual, leftovers from defunct industries. Others are artifacts connected to our fixation with anti-bacterial soaps, dependence on pharmaceuticals, and lifestyle choices that inadvertently weaken arguments for tighter environmental standards.

On the eastern seaboard, CBF, propelled by its staff of roughly 200, has sought to “Save the Bay” for nearly four decades. Among their many activities, they are partnering with the agriculture industry. Strengthened by their unity, they are lobbying for federal assistance to control the amounts of nutrients washing from fields and farms, which are responsible for an estimated 40 percent of the bay’s nitrogen load.

Rooted by its staff of one full-time and one part-time employee at the far western end of the Great Lakes system, the CAC envisions a thriving human community connected to the aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems of the St. Louis River. Their scope and interests are defined in a written habitat plan that supports the mitigation of contaminated sediments and targets the conservation of particular terrestrial and aquatic areas and species.

“An important difference between the St. Louis River’s CAC and the CBF is their birth,” said McGee. “The CBF was founded as a watchdog organization and, lacking ties to government, it has more freedom to challenge policies and policy makers. The CAC originated through the combined efforts of Minnesota and Wisconsin legislatures, so taking on an advocacy role is tougher. However, no matter what state or water system we’re talking about, it’s important to have independent groups pushing the government to make scientifically based and environmentally astute decisions.”

The St. Louis River flows into the largest estuary in the U.S. portion of the Great Lakes.

The Chesapeake Bay is one of the largest estuaries in the world. Through non-profit, science-based organizations such as the CAC and the CBF, people turn their appreciation for these important ecosystems into projects that educate the public and garner the attention of public officials. Now that’s worth celebrating!

For more information about the St. Louis River Citizens Action Committee, log on to:
www.stlouisriver.org.

For more information about the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, log on to: www.cbf.org.


* Additional Science Panel Members:

  • Heidi Bauman, Minnesota Pollution Control Agency
  • Lynelle Hanson, St. Louis River Citizens Action Committee
  • John Lindgren, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources
  • Deborah Swackhamer, University of Minnesota Twin Cities

By Sharon Moen
June 2006

Return to June 2006 Seiche



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