From December 18, 2000 edition of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune - copyright 2000
Reprinted with permission

Minnesota River
TV documents a 'contaminated brew'

The Minnesota River, flowing muddily across Minnesota from South Dakota to Fort Snelling, has always been an important part of Minnesota history. Among early whites to use the river were traders. Then came Indian treaties, white settlements and an Indian uprising. Even a visit by Henery David Thoreau. But in modern times, as Star Tribune writer Tom Meersman has written, the river has become "a contaminated brew of chemicals, sediments, raw sewage, animal wastes and excess nutrients." Understanding that brew and what the Minnesota River Basin once was like, plus what it may become, is the subject of an improtant 13-part historical and educational documentary on Twin Cities Public Television, Channel 17.

Entitled "Minnesota: Rivers and Fields," the first two half-hour episodes will appear Tuesday evening, with other segments in subsequent weeks. Before peering into the future, the series, hosted by former U.S. Agriculture Secretary Bob Bergland, will look back 10,000 years when floods from Glacial Lake Agassiz carved out the Minnesota River valley. Then came the prairie ecosystem, early human inhabitants, European settlers, agricultural technology, crop and livestock evolution, efforts for wetland restoration and soil-erosion reduction, and modern high-tech agriculture.

Finally comes episode 13, which considers what lies ahead. Promotional material offers the premise for that last episode: "The future of the Minnesota River Basin is uncertain. Issues concerning economics, the environment, and the future of rural communities are becoming ever more important. What does the future hold?"

The river faces an uncertain future because much remains to be done to control the contaminated brew. Involved are federal, state and local government agencies with very different responsibilities; land owners and other area residents; environmentalists, businesses, regional and state taxpayers, and more. The issues aren't simple, as Gov. Arne Carlson learned after he expressed a goal in 1992 of cleaning up the river by 2002.

Although "Minnesota: Rivers and Fields" is about to appear on Twin Cities Public Television, the series originated outstate and already has been shown twice on regional Pioneer Public Television at Appleton, with good audience response. It was produced at the University of Minnesota at Morris; the producers were Roger Boleman, the school's director of Media Services, and Gordon McIntosh, a physics professor. Once more, the series gives nice evidence that lots of worthwhile creativity exists outside the metropolitan area and deserves a Twin Cities audience too.