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Moving Toward a More Integrated Management Approach for Minnesota’s Rivers

While the current approach to river management has achieved some notable successes in sustaining or restoring some river values, opportunities for improvements exist. Many advocate restructuring the current fragmented system and adopting a watershed management model that acknowledges the natural linkages and boundaries of the system. They argue that since rivers are inextricably linked with their watersheds, management efforts must extend to shorelands, floodplains, and upland areas. The watershed management approach takes a holistic view of a river system by recognizing that all lands within the contributing watersheds, by reason of their position, use, topography, soils, geology, or other characteristics, may significantly impact the river.

In recent years, some state and regional agencies and grassroots organizations have undertaken a number of watershed-focused initiatives, but much work remains. Efforts to adopt watersheds as units of management run into resistance from established jurisdictions determined to maintain decision-making power. In addition, efforts to control land use through regulation often are met with stiff resistance because regulation reduces individual control over private property. While voluntary programs that encourage stewardship activities or provide incentives to protect and enhance Minnesota’s river resources may create a relatively effective alternative to regulation, limits exist to these types of programs. To maintain and enhance the quality of its river resources, Minnesota must find a solution to this watershed management conundrum.


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