A river in peril
In 2009, the national rivers advocacy group American Rivers, working with local citizens and the St. Croix River Association, named the lower St. Croix River to American Rivers’ annual list of the “Most Endangered Rivers in America.”
The report cited poor zoning decisions by local governments along the river that have resulted in development along the river’s banks. Construction has caused impairment of the river’s scenic nature and threatened water quality with increased runoff. Learn more »
Although the St. Croix is a federally-protected Wild & Scenic Riverway, the lower river, from Stillwater to Prescott, is managed by Wisconsin and Minnesota Departments of Natural Resources, not the National Park Service. This has caused a complex and often confusing web of competing regulations to pop up, with every city, town, and township passing and enforcing its own zoning regulations.
The tangle of zoning laws has allowed some people to build houses too big and too close to the river, impairing water quality and harming the river’s renowned scenic qualities. The situation prompted local citizens and groups to work with the national organization American Rivers in 2009 to list the lower St. Croix as one of the top 10 “Most Endangered Rivers in America.”
In its report (PDF), American Rivers said:
“…over time, the states have allowed several of the 19 local governments along this protected stretch of the river to build large structures too close to the river, degrading the experience of boaters and anglers, and disregarding the intent of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.
Denmark Township in Washington County, MN approved a 3500-square-foot structure just 13 feet from the riverbank, where the zoning standard is 100 feet. Lakeland, MN approved a major building expansion too close to the riverbank. In Wisconsin, the town of Troy has relaxed its zoning rules without state objection, lessening protection for the river.
A newspaper report about the designation provided further explanation:
Although a web of administrative rules and local ordinances protect it, land-use practices and zoning difficulties along the sprawling watershed continue to threaten the river, said Molly Shodeen, an area hydrologist for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. She said she has watched the St. Croix’s steady decline in the 27 years she has worked for the agency.
“Water quality has definitely deteriorated,” she said. “You can physically see it now where you can see algae blooms. It’s always been renowned for its water quality, and that’s what got people to use it — enthusiastically. I think it’s somewhat shocking that it’s declined to the degree that it has.”
Could St. Croix River become St. Crud? – Minneapolis Star Tribune, April 5, 2009