ST. CLOUD -- Around a hundred people gathered at the St. Cloud Public Library Tuesday night to discuss the state of the Mississippi River — and how to keep it clean.

The "Our Mississippi, Our Future" community forum featured presentations by scientists, local officials, business owners and environmental activists. Small group sessions allowed attendees share personal, river-focused stories and brainstorm conservation activities.

Similar programs have been held throughout Minnesota, including Little Falls and Brainerd. Forum organizer Elizabeth Mboutchom says, while the upper Mississippi River is relatively healthy right now, development and habitat removal could reverse that trend by allowing more pollutants to enter waterways.

"Development takes away natural filters, like trees, wetlands and grasslands. We're getting more agricultural runoff, and we're getting more storm water runoff in cities. It's a double impact for our waters; we're losing our natural filters and we're getting more pollution coming in. So, we start to see the natural impacts pretty quickly."

St. Joseph resident and event committee member Jean Scoon says her love of the outdoors - especially hiking and water sports - compelled her to join the organization.

"Minnesota is all about water. Forty-four percent Minnesotans depend on the Mississippi for their drinking water. It's part of everything in this state - our history, our economy, our recreation. It's a spiritual resource."

Scoon says forum committee members are planning a series of informal meetings at area coffee shops with local lawmakers to promote conservation funding.

"This is a state issue. We need to direct the upcoming bonding bill into conservation around the lands of the Mississippi. We need to speak up."

To learn more about the work of Our Mississippi, Our Future, visit their website.

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