River Watch was lucky to present at State Fair’s Eco-Experience Building on September 3rd, sponsored by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA). Joining the other incredible stations presenting on water topics in Minnesota, River Watch focused on challenging fair-goers' ideas of the quality of large rivers in Minnesota, and spread awareness about common water pollutants found in one’s home.
With two fish tanks of water, one sample from the Minnesota River, one sample from the Mississippi, fair-goers were asked to identify which water came from which river. People of all ages, from the very young to the elderly took a guess based on the appearance of the water samples. The water from the Minnesota River, taken from a stretch in Bloomington, was clouded with sediment, and was impossible to see through. The water from the Mississippi, taken near the Stone Arch Bridge in Minneapolis, was generally clear with only a slight haze to the water. What became clear throughout the day is that people throughout Minnesota (and US) had drastically differing experiences with the Mississippi River, many of which reflected a version of the Mississippi after it had joined with the Minnesota River. This is because the Minnesota River is a large contributor of sediment to the Mississippi, so those that experience the Mississippi after its confluence with the Minnesota River know the river to be murky with sediment, and unpleasant to swim in. These perceptions lead many folks to incorrectly identify the Minnesota River water as the clearer water sample, and make clear the impact living downstream can have on one’s relationship with the river.
It was fascinating to talk to people from all backgrounds, and listen to their questions, observations, and stories about water quality in Minnesota. Many were surprised to learn that lawn waste, sediment, and road salt are all common water pollutants that cause very different problems. Luckily, reducing one’s contribution of these pollutants to water only takes a few easy changes to regular home tasks. My hope is that all those that visited the booth learned some way they can help improve water quality in their community; and also took some time to reflect on the importance of Minnesota’s water resources, a resource that is frequently taken for granted.