River Congress seeks public support and government funding | News, Sports, Jobs


For the first time since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Minnesota River Congress – a citizen-led group that focuses on the natural resources and economic health of the Minnesota River Basin – will meet on June 15 in Mankato.

The public is invited to the free Kato Ballroom event, which aims to promote citizen participation from all communities of interest and take cooperative action to protect, conserve and enhance the Minnesota River Basin.

A number of heads of state will speak about the need to store water, starting with Governor Tim Walz’s online address at 7 p.m., followed by John Jaschke and Rita Weaver of the Board of Water and Soil Resources; Sarah Strommen, Commissioner of the Department of Natural Resources; Katrina Kessler, commissioner of the Pollution Control Agency; Mark Schnobrich, director of the South Central Soil and Water Conservation District; and Mark Dittrich from the Department of Agriculture.

Leaders of the Izaak Walton League will also speak. The public will have the opportunity to provide direction and feedback to the River Congress Action Board on its water storage initiative, which is now funded at $1 million for each of the next two years.

“It’s a great first step, establishes the program in the statutes; however, this amount of resources will not go very far to realistically address the extent of the need,” said Scott Sparlin, a musician from New Ulm who is a River Congress host. “What is needed now is the kind of resources that will allow all forms of water storage to be established throughout the watershed.

“This will require a much greater commitment from the state of Minnesota as well as federal support. We plan to continue advocating for this support. This is where the public can contribute to our collective efforts. There will be opportunities for feedback regarding the future, and we need people to help create those pathways.

Sparlin said the small streams are the answer to a lot of sedimentation that comes from channel erosion.

“That’s a big part of why Lake Pepin fills up, due to events that happen when the ground isn’t protected,” he said. “It’s more than the main arm of the river or the river itself. These are our lakes, streams and roads. We hope people can buy into the idea that we need a comprehensive review of how we store water.

Sparlin said no one is mandated to do anything, so everything is voluntary.

“If there is money available, owners will be compensated for land losses,” he said.

Sparlin said the initiative’s funding sources include private foundations and Legacy Amendments.

Supporting entities include the cities of New Ulm, Henderson, Granite Falls, Eden Prairie, Arlington, Amboy, Olivia, Mankato, Nicollet, Redwood Falls, Springfield, Winthrop, St. Peter and Le Sueur and numerous Soil Conservation Districts and county water.

For more information, visit mnrivercongress.org.

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