Caring for Big Sioux River may unite community
In today’s society, we seem to prefer cut and dried perspectives. We gravitate toward abruptly divided judgments. We describe beliefs as good or bad, right or wrong. However, as we try to compartmentalize complex issues and opinions into either-or categories we risk becoming entrenched in positions that avoid or neglect meaningful discussion and information. The consequence of this approach can be disrespecting to the sincere viewpoints of those whose positions may differ from our own. As we face important but difficult issues, we need to be open-minded so we can ask questions, seek information and find rational clarity.
Our nation was founded on the idea that we have the right to look out for our best interests, but also that a community’s best interests must be considered. This is no simple matter, requiring that we consider a myriad of voices and recognizing that those voices cannot be easily classified as winners or losers, as right or wrong.
Protecting the Big Sioux River offers a unique opportunity for our community to break free from that binary approach to formulating and judging opinions and conclusions. This is an opportunity for all of us to tackle a challenge while honoring the complexity of issues and interests involved in a diverse river that is over 400 miles long, is impacted by many thousands of people and drains a watershed area measuring 9,600 square miles. The movement for a healthier Big Sioux River requires effort and support from homeowners, farmers, business owners, Democrats, Republicans, independents, gardeners, teachers, kayakers, golfers, dog walkers, cat lovers and everyone in between all of those.
The organization, Friends of the Big Sioux River, is poised to help lead this community effort. Our board of directors has decided that one of the most important goals to serve this effort must be to gather and present water quality data and other information relevant to the condition of the river. This will help inform all of us to better understand just what sorts of challenges face those of us desiring a healthier river.
Last summer, FBSR began an ambitious reconnaissance effort, surveying the river from near Brookings to south of Sioux Falls. Not only did we conduct this analysis from canoes, kayaks and on foot, we also chartered an airplane to view the river from above. We are assembling references and resources, photographs and documentation about the river and its shoreline, and we are using sophisticated mapping formats to identify the locations possessing a variety of circumstances and conditions along the river. We intend to share this information with the public on our website and through our newsletters. We also intend to expand our analysis to the entire river.
FBSR has also worked to better understand water quality in the river by conducting water testing at various locations in the Sioux Falls area and by studying water quality data collected by other organizations, institutions and agencies. If a cleaner river is our goal, we need to know the status of water quality through all seasons in the river. The results of these tests are available on our website. We endorse efforts by public agencies such as East River Water Development District, U.S Geological Survey, the South Dakota Department of Environment and Natural Resources and the City of Sioux Falls to monitor water quality in the river and its tributaries. We advocate for additional testing and that this information be easily reviewable by the public.
Information-gathering efforts conducted by FBSR are costly and they require lots of volunteer work, but they provide us with irreplaceable and valuable intelligence about the river. Facts, not rumors or public relations campaigns, must be the basis for our plans and for our actions.
It will not be a simple fix to restore and protect the Big Sioux River. We fully appreciate the challenges ahead of us. But already there are worthwhile, meaningful programs underway to revive the river. We sense an encouraging momentum. Greater public involvement and a unified public voice will add to the trajectory of progress now underway.