Speakers Discuss Pollution Problems in Rivers

John O. Anfinson and Anthony Amato discuss the history of the Minnesota and Mississippi

By Hannah Waack


Anfinson

In the Gulf of Mexico there is a section that is known as "the Dead Zone". The water there contains high amounts of nitrogen and phosphate. This pollution prevents oxygen from being dissolved, thus no marine life can survive. It is estimated that 6 percent of this pollution comes from Minnesota rivers.

Sixty-three people attended the Rivers of History: The Minnesota and the Mississippi, a lecture hosted by the Center for Rural and Regional Studies and the Society for the Study of Local and Regional History. The conference occurred on Thursday, Nov. 4. The time was divided between guest lecture Dr. John O. Anfinson and Dr. Anthony Amato, the chair of the rural and regional studies department.

Anfinson spoke about his book "The River We Have Wrought: A History of the Upper Mississippi."

"Essentially my book explores why we have done what we have done to the river and who have we done it for," Anfinson said.

He then turned to the Mississippi river. He spoke about its history and its current condition.

"So much of Southwestern and Western Minnesota has a huge stake in the Minnesota River," said Anfinson.

One item that Anfinson cited was the fact that having an alternative to railroad shipping helps keep the railroad costs down. While the river is important, Anfinson points out that with the current situation, the Mississippi river is in trouble.

"According to many biologists we are coming up on a 'silent spring'...The problem is when the water is supposed to go down, the locks on the river prevent it. The drying up is a part of the natural ecosystem," Anfinson said.

He discussed plants that have adapted to the flooding and drying up and as a result are becoming scarcer. As a result the waterfowl can't eat the plants. Every year the water eats up more of the tiny islands and tiny ecosystems are destroyed and there is more sediment in the water.

"For farmers who depend on the river for their livelihood, there is a more significant change," said Anfinson.

The Corps of Engineers is proposing a 7.2 billion dollar project to restore ecosystems and make the lock and dam system more efficient. Anfinson estimated that about 1500 barges go up and down the river each day and the current lock and dam system is not time or cost efficient.

Anfinson next turned to the history of the river. He started with the exploration of Zebulon Pike and discussed the first docks along the river and how farming was the reason that the river was finally improved for shipping.

Co-presenter Amato had high praise for Anfinson. "I reviewed his book and really liked it," said Amato.

Geoff Cunfer, a professor in the center for rural and regional studies, enjoyed the presentation as well.

"I think that he gave a fantastic talk and he really made clear the ecological differences between the Northern and the Southern stretches of the Mississippi river," Cunfer said.

When Anfinson was done, Amato then gave a talk on "The Flow of History: Rivers, the Past, and the Present."

"[Amato] did a nice job of putting the Minnesota River in its context of rivers worldwide," Cunfer said.

"There's a lot of concern about rivers in our area and their state, pollution and flooding. Just because we didn't flood this year doesn't mean we shouldn't be concerned,"Amato said.

"The river's water will be cleaner as people in its watershed take a bigger interest in water quality," Amato added.

Still, Amato said the rivers will have problems if people continue to build too close to them.

"I think the flooding has made it clear that the rivers aren't under our control," Amato said.