Plan aims to protect river basin

Water quality in the Rainy River basin is in good shape—and a new water management plan being formed across the border is trying to keep it that way.
“Water quality in Rainy basin is in as close to pristine condition as you’ll find anywhere else in Minnesota,” co-ordinator Nolan Baratono said at a presentation at Rainy River Community College in International Falls last Thursday.
“The water quality is good, but that doesn’t mean we can’t make it better,” he stressed.
Baratono, who works for the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, has been put in charge of creating a water management plan on the Minnesota portion of the basin.
The plan, which will be formulated by federal staff, state and local agencies, as well as industry reps and the general public, is intended to discuss everything from pollution control and monitoring water levels to possibly recreational use on the water.
“We’re involving Canadian agencies as much as they say they want to be involved,” Baratono added. “A lot of Canadian citizens are very interested in what we’re doing and would like to see it done there.”
One of the local Canadian groups that might get involved in the plan is the Rainy River First Nations Watershed program, said its co-ordinator, Martin Nantel.
“We will most likely be involved in any large-scale watershed planning simply because we are part of the watershed,” he said Friday.
The watershed program is looking at creating its own study examining the quality of the water and the status of fisheries so it can better plan out what programs might be needed to improve and preserve this resource.
“We want to look at the larger view of what needs to be done, what are the [pollution] hot spots,” Nantel said, adding the project was only in the early stages and may not go ahead at this time.
Baratono said the first U.S. plan for the basin was created in 1971, and was officially in operation since the Clean Water Act in 1972. But that plan was not as extensive as necessary as the one he’s proposing.
“We need to have a plan and it may not be pretty,” he admitted. “But it will move things ahead to manage water.”
The first meeting for the local basin committee to help draft the plan is slated April 3 for anyone interested in becoming involved in the process.