Cannon River Pollution Control


Last night I leafed through the current issue of the Minnesota Conservation Volunteer (a publication of the Minnesota Dept. of Natural Resources). The July/August issue had a focus on Lake Superior and some of the challenges faced by the area in balancing development with the need to protect critical aspects of the lake and its ecosystem.

It made me think about Ross’s earlier post about stormwater/surface water management. It’s a topic that isn’t particularly sexy, but is highly relevant. Some of the issues faced by Lake Superior aren’t unique – they’re common to other bodies of water in Minnesota, including our own Cannon River.

The Cannon River, which we’ve taken for granted (and for years used as a sewer) is one of only six rivers in Minnesota with the “wild and scenic” designation, which recognizes and identifies some of the special features of this natural resource which make the Cannon unique.

The steps that have been taken by state and local authorities over the past 25 years have helped clean up the Cannon River and protect its more fragile aspects. I’d like to be mindful of other steps we can take as a community that will further these ends.

According to the MN Conservation Volunteer,

Many. . . are surprised to hear that industries are no longer the major source of lake pollution. Paper mills, mines, and municipal sewage plants have gradually been regulated to reduce pollution since the 1970s. . .[O]n natural landscapes, with intact forests and wetlands, only about 10 percent of a rainfall runs off into streams. The rest percolates through soil and wetlands and into groundwater. However, in an average residential neighborhood — where buildings, roads, sidewalks, driveways, and parking lots cover about 40 percent of the land — runoff triples to a whopping 30 percent of rainfall. At that point, runoff degrades streams with loads of road salt and silt. Stream water temperatures warm, and erosion begins to change the stream’s course. “Whatever you’re sending down the street and storm drain is coming right out here into the lake,” said Amy Eliot, a watershed educator working with the University of Wisconsin-Superior.

Down the storm drain and into the lake…or the river. In the words of this issue’s editorial,

Lawn by lawn, campus by campus, golf course by golf course, grass has grown into one of our nation’s biggest crops. With shallow roots, often in compacted soil, turf grass cannot absorb precipitation as effectively as native plants do. Mix in lawn fertilizer and herbicides, and turf runoff turns into a toxic brew channeled along gutters, curbs, and storm drains to our wetlands, streams, and lakes.

I have to credit my former colleague on the Planning Commission, Justin Watkins, for helping to raise my awareness on this issue. (Justin works for the MN Pollution Control Agency’s Rochester office). And I’m grateful to have organizations in Northfield like the Cannon River Watershed Partnership and the RENew Northfield which are terrific resources. We also have good staff at City Hall who are working at the cutting edge on surface water management practices and techniques.

This is one of those issues that, for some reason, particularly encourages me in the idea that individual responsibility and personal choice can contribute meaningfully toward a larger goal. Eliminating the use of lawn chemicals, or putting in a rain barrel or rain garden can have a direct, immediate, positive impact on the Cannon River. Shame on me for not having done that yet on my own property. (It’s on my list…..)

Next: Okay, now we’ve protected it, how do we make it beautiful, charming, and useful as it runs through town? According to the TIP Strategies Economic Development Plan for Northfield, we aren’t utilizing the river and the riverfront nearly as much as we could.


  1. Ross Currier said:


    Thanks for returning to this important, if not sexy, topic. Your noting of the Cannon’s rare status and the source of the current threats is helpful in considering this topic.

    You will be interested to hear that I ran into our colleague Griff Wigley and CRWP Director Hilary Ziol AT THE SAME time at Just Food the other day and got Griff to agree that, although not sexy, it was an important enough topic for an upcoming radio show.

    Let’s keep the pressure on Northfield’s answer to Rupert Murdoch…


    August 8, 2007
  2. Christine Stanton said:

    Hey, I think this topic is exciting, maybe not “sexy,” but potentially romantic. If there was the opportunity to rent a canoe this evening and paddle/float three miles down the river to the Waterford bridge with my hubby, then, be picked up so we would not have to portage back or travel upstream, I would go. 🙂

    Here is one of my earlier post from “We the People: It’s More Than One of Them,” which pertains directly to the question, “…how do we make it beautiful, charming, and useful as it runs through town?”

    “What if there was a shop on the corner of Hwy 3 and 2nd Street (where the lovely construction trailer is parked) that rented canoes/kayaks, cross country skis, maybe even paddle boats? There is a nice landing there, though some stairs might need to be put in to launch. The shop could offer pick up by the Waterford bridge, so you would not have to worry about how to get back.

    Maybe it could even be a stop on the Mill Town bike trail. (Would you be interested in re-locating, Mike?) What about bike rental? Tandems, 3-wheelers…

    Bait and fishing poles could be available too. Hey, maybe the shop could rent waders and give fly fishing lessons. They could even offer tools, suppplies, and lessons on making lures.

    It would be a great joint location with the Chamber of Commerce.

    Anyone interested? Could the city have a municipal outdoors shop too or instead of the Muni?”

    August 8, 2007
  3. Ross Currier said:


    Christine has given us the hook we need…ROMANTIC!


    August 8, 2007
  4. Christine Stanton said:

    Some students at St. Olaf did a report on the Cannon. Their management recommendations are interesting.
    “If managed properly, the Cannon River and its tributaries will remain a great source of outdoor
    recreation and tourist dollars. Unfortunately, many of the environmental problems surfacing
    within the Cannon River watershed pose a serious threat to many forms of recreation. Even
    recreation itself is a serious threat to the health of the river if mismanaged. It is important that
    we minimize our recreational impacts on the Cannon River using leave-no-trace approaches.
    Future management of the Cannon River for recreational purposes should focus on the following
    • Minimize agricultural runoff, especially near trout tributaries or popular fishing holes
    • Expand and improve current camping opportunities to encourage overnight canoe trips
    on the Cannon.
    • Expand educational programs that use the various parks and wildlife refuges along the
    • Consider removal of Northfield dam to improve fishing opportunities
    • Use “Wild and Scenic River” designation to foster community involvement in
    management plans
    • Stress low-impact recreation principles to ensure proper balance between human use
    and ecosystem health.”

    August 8, 2007
  5. Christine Stanton said:

    I am on a goggling roll.

    Did you know?
    “In fact, its original name, which dates back to the fur trade, was Canot–the French word for canoe. Mistranslated, the Canoe River became the Cannon.”

    Hey, “canoe” is a “c” word too. How about “Cows, Colleges, Contentment, and Canoes” for revised motto?

    August 8, 2007
  6. In the past, I have worked as a water quality environmentalist,
    fighting the good fight against the big polluters…me and legions of others who never really got any thanks for taking low paying jobs and working into the night and against the grain of society. I accept the job well done as thanks.

    Today, I will give you a few ideas about what has drawn me and dh to towns that we wouldn’t have gone to otherwise.

    Gardens, both indoors and outdoors. In Tulsa, they have a fantastic azalea garden in the spring, known as Woodland Gardens. They have a terrific rose garden, with hundreds of rose plants, and an herbal garden, here described from their website, which I used to recommend, but I now see is failing, imho.


    Named after the wife of William Shakespeare, who was renowned for her love of gardening and her cultivation of culinary herbs, this formal herb garden was started by Tulsan Jewel Huffman in 1939. For many years the Anne Hathaway Herb Garden Club, an affiliate of Tulsa Garden Center, fully maintained the herb garden – watering, weeding, transplanting, labeling and cultivating for the public’s enjoyment. Different varieties of interesting herbs and their aromas may still be found in the Anne Hathaway Herb Garden today. In 1982 Tulsa Parks horticulture department took over maintenance of this unique garden. Exhibits include scented geraniums, sages, mints, basil, summer and winter savory, lemon thyme, burnett, rosemary, marjoram, oregano and tarragon. Herb specimens are labeled with their common and botanical names for easy reference. The herbs bloom from May until frost. Visitors are encouraged to pinch off just one leaf to smell or taste.

    And although Tulsa or OK has spent a gigantic amount of money to
    beautify their Arkansas River Front, with walkways and sculptures
    and a fantastic walking bridge that spans the river in hundreds of feet, no one goes there, except for certain festive days. Why?
    because that river floods housing at least once or twice a year,
    and people see it as a problem, rather than an asset. I am sure they are working to change that, but it takes a long time to make that change. Also that river does dry up almost completely and often. They did have some excursion ride there at one time also, which I believe was somewhat popular.

    Another idea that came to mind, which may be really awful or really wonderful for the Cannon at 7th street bend, is something we saw
    down in Talequah, OK (I think). We rode down a small road off a small road,
    and under a viaduct and then in a few hundred feet where we parked our car. There was at least a football field size area covered in
    2-3 inch greyish white round river rock, and a river ran through half of it. People had lawn chairs spread around the area, with kids playing in the shallow river, and people looking for arrowheads all along the rocky area. It was really amazing. All I could figure was that the USACE army corps of engineers had placed the rock there to settle the silt around the concrete footings of the viaduct. And as the USACE is wont to do, they also made it sort of a recreation area…a lot of river rock and the river running thru part of it and did not flow above the rock, and part of it was just river rock. It was like a beach in a place where you would not expect to see a beach. It was quite beautiful and unusual. Something like that for the Cannon River would certainly a photo op for camera bugs and a lovely place of recreation, if and when the river would be clean enough.

    Another idea is landscaping along the river. Either do something fun and interesting, with no negative impact, or remove the unsightly stuff and put in some stones for erosion control.

    One more idea, is the small sculptures I have seen around towns,
    like the Charlie Brown, Snoopy and Lucy sculptures, the fire hydrant paintings in Owatonna, the painted cows that have popped up all around the Midwest, and so on. I wonder why doesn’t Northfield have any of this type of thing to draw people in to town.

    Anyway, that is my offering for today. Have fun dissecting it!


    August 8, 2007
  7. Ray Cox said:

    One negative impact on our lakes and rivers comes from construction projects. Over the past few years the state has implemented a pretty good program to require construction sites to deal with runoff. I’m sure that has helped reduce the silt and contamination that finds its way to the Cannon River in this area. However, most of those regulations only apply to sites where over 1 acre of land is disturbed. Housing sites are not normally that large, so they don’t fall under the state rules, but housing construction can still contribute to runoff. It is important to keep silt fences, drain filters, etc. in use in those projects—no matter how small they may be. It isn’t always easy to keep the fencing intact with work going on, but every little bit helps.

    August 9, 2007
  8. Tracy(?) wrote:This is one of those issues that, for some reason, particularly encourages me in the idea that individual responsibility and personal choice can contribute meaningfully toward a larger goal. Eliminating the use of lawn chemicals, or putting in a rain barrel or rain garden can have a direct, immediate, positive impact on the Cannon River. Shame on me for not having done that yet on my own property. (Its on my list..)

    Bright says…
    We have been using an electric lawn mower that we purchased for $100 over four years ago. It is quiet and efficient, even over 6 inch high grass…we only mow when we start seeing the cows come
    for lunch. 🙂

    Also, it is good to know that some lawn type grasses have roots that go 18-24 inches deep and help keep rolling lawns in place,
    along with tree and shrub and bush roots. I don’t know if that is true for wildflower roots. What I do know is that tall grasses and
    flowers are great habitat for snakes.

    We live about 500 ft from a holding pond surrounded by prairie plants and such, and we have seen and heard of snakes, most of which are harmless, I know, but are perceived differently. And,
    contrary to popular opinion, the MDNR says there ARE rattle snakes in this state. The rattle snake is truly something to be reckoned with if you live amongst them.

    I mention this because one of the reasons lawns became popular is because of the ability to control the height of the plant and thereby the habitat of the snake. The other is to cover completely the soil, which would otherwise be swept up into the air by wind and vehicles, causing another major source of pollution…dust and dust storms. If you have ever lived in southwestern USA, you would see and know all to well what I am refering to.

    Another point I’d like to make, and I am really not trying to make an argument one way or the other, but Trum Chem tells me that the lawn chemicals they use now are short lasting, from days to weeks,
    and are specific to the application and that is the only thing that will be harmed by the chemical. I do not know if this is true or not. I know that chemicals have been developed that are very specific to the application for which they are intended, but I
    have a tendency not to believe companies that use chemicals, but I have not seen evidence that the corn gluten thing works well at all.

    I confess I have used Tru Chem, and I used them minimally to keep
    broadleaf plants at bay for the sake of the neighborhood culture,
    but no more than that.

    Hope my ramblings help at some point in the future, if not right away.

    Thanks to all who make the effort to live naturally and as pollution free as possible.


    August 9, 2007
  9. BruceWMorlan said:

    Back in the summer of 2005 Dundas and Bridgewater township officials attended a training seminar on Nonpoint Education for Municipal Officials (NEMO). (my report on that event). Later that year I sat on the Cannon River Watershed Partnership‘s Healthy Waters Task Force, a small group of local citizens who produced (under the guidance of the CRWP staff) a report, “Immediate Actions to Improve Local Water Quality with Regard to Phosphorus, Fecal coliform bacteria, and Mercury Pollution“. I mention these to remind everyone that a strong interest in protecting this watershed is already being expressed and implemented in the “wooded lands beyond the gates of civilization” (as Ross so quaintly labeled Dundas and Bridgewater).

    For the past two years Dundas has been trying to apply the lessons we learned from these projects, and we look forward with great anticipation to seeing how CRWP will work to help bring Northfield on board with these plans to protect this river from all the polluting sources, especially the non-point sources like lawns and shared spaces that threaten the waters in the Cannon river watershed here in our backyards and plowed fields. I would like to eventually see a unified plan that crosses both the city-city boundaries and the city-township boundaries with unified goals and methods.

    With Bridgewater township now engaged in their own planning and zoning (assuming they are able to concentrate on this issue while being dogged by lawyers) we have a real opportunity to integrate watershed protection across borders that would otherwise represent “soft targets” for people who were looking not for planning, but rather were looking for gaps and loopholes. Done right, our regionally coordinated planning and zoning can serve to present a unified front on critical issues like this one, and I welcome Locally Grown’s stepping up to help cover this issue.

    August 10, 2007
  10. Interest in caring for something is often done by those who use it. How do we get people to use the Cannon River more as it passes through Northfield? Right now there is a dam that makes canoe and kayak passage on the river through Northfield impossible, and there is no portage. How can we make the river canoe and kayak friendly?

    We love the dam as a place to sit and reflect, fish, etc. But, if we modify the dam so that half is as we see it, and the other half is a whitewater rapids (not too rough) then we have both – but at great expense.

    But there would be greatly increased interest in the use of the river, and more users, and more spectators. It is expensive to maintain the dam now. Can we find enough people with enough commitment to create an exciting, positive, viable alternative?

    August 13, 2007

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