Poplar River Management Board: Rural Vitality Winner

  • April 9, 2019
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  • Danielle Jackson

According to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA), bodies of water are listed as “impaired” if they do not meet Minnesota water quality standards, which protect our state’s water for consumption, aquatic life, commercial use and agriculture, among other things. When the Poplar River in Northern Minnesota was listed as “impaired” in 2004, the community was shocked. They knew the river turned brown when it rained, but they hadn’t realized that was an indicator of a larger problem. The community came together around the listing to improve and protect their river, and the Poplar River Management Board (PRMB) was born. We spoke to Tom Rider, the President of the PRMB and one of the primary landowners in the area, about the project.

Rural Vitality — Poplar River Management Board

Presented by Dorsey and Whitney

The Polar River Management Board is a coalition of private businesses and landowners working with local, state and federal partners to address their concern about the Polar River’s water quality, and they’ve been successful. The Polar River has been delisted as an impaired water by the MPCA—only the second water to be delisted in the state—thanks to over a decade of work and $3 million investment in the project. Their work isn’t over, though. The PRMB will continue monitoring and maintaining the work they’ve done, so that the river stays clean for years to come.

Throughout the years, the PMRB has worked with a number of influential partners to ensure their efforts would be successful. For example, the Poplar River is a trout river, so the PMRB involved the Department of Natural Resources in the research, planning and execution of the project. By having a variety of partners involved, PMRB has been able to learn more and address more concerns. In addition, this has allowed the business owners of the project to apply their knowledge to a new area: environmental restoration and preservation.

Business Principles on Environmental Projects

For their part, the landowners involved in the PMRB were owners of businesses. For instance, Tom owns the ski resort where many of the projects took place. He pointed out that, though the projects were focused on water quality, the business owners were able to use their other skills to help them succeed. As he put it, “You learn in business you can’t accomplish anything by yourself, you need partners in whatever you do. You’ll never have all the expertise and all the right answers. And that principle applies in business and in any activities and endeavors. And especially here, there are so many stakeholders, public and private, and you need to have them all in the room to get them all heard and have their expertise and get their concerns addressed.”

The business-minded landowners were also able to help others in the PMRB prioritize their projects, because they all sought to “preserve our resources, but also the public resources,” being mindful not only of the amount of money the projects took, but also the amount of time being invested. By looking at how to maximize returns on investment, the PMRB was able to look first at projects that they felt were more “obvious” and that had clearer solutions, then shift their work to focus on longer-term, more financially-involved projects. In the eyes of the PMRB, all their investments have been worthwhile, though, because now their businesses are also able to run more sustainably.

For example, because of the scientific research the PMRB did, the resort owners discovered that the way they had been grading, or creating, their ski runs was removing the top layer of soil. In Northern Minnesota, that exposes a layer of clay, which is unable to absorb rain and then runs off into the water. As a result, they have been working on new ways to grade ski runs that are better for the river. And the change has reached beyond the original partners to employees and community members, who are now more conscious of the effects of their actions on the water.

Partnership is Key

The water is, after all, the driving force behind this work—more than the profits, more than the “delisting,” the PMRB was created “for the local community and broader community, and future generations…we hold this land in trust for future generations, because it’s a pretty special place. We want to protect it for them.” Not only will the efforts of the PMRB help with that, but the partnerships that have developed will continue, allowing the preservation of the river to last for years. In the grand scheme of things, Tom said partnership was one of the biggest accomplishments of the project, along with the delisting of the river and the internal education for continued stewardship.

Celebrate the Poplar River Management Board

Join the Poplar River Management Board at the Environmental Initiative Awards on May 22 to discuss their new best management practices, what they’ve learned and to hear more about the beauty of the now-delisted Poplar River.

Learn More and Register