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The Upper Rum River Watershed Management Organization partnered with St. Francis High School science classes and the American Legion this summer to inventory invertebrates to measure river health. (Photo submitted)

This is the fourth in a series of monthly columns by local water experts. These columns on local rivers and land use are a collaboration between the League of Women Voters Upper Mississippi River Region and other environmental groups in Anoka County. To learn more about the League of Women Voters visit lwvumrr.org.

The Rum River is one of six State Wild, Scenic and Recreational Rivers. Quaint and quiet along much of its length, the river is a recreational hot spot for fishing and canoeing. Its waters, after they join with the Mississippi River, are also a drinking water source for the Twin Cities. This important river has a local entity, the Upper Rum River Watershed Management Organization (URRWMO) that cares for it.

The URRWMO has found partnerships with St. Francis High School science classes and the American Legion. Science classes have visited the river across the street from the school to inventory invertebrates (bugs, crawfish, snails, etc.) living in the river. They were accompanied by professionals from the Anoka Conservation District, who set the scientific protocols and used the resulting data. Because each invertebrate has a unique pollution tolerance and habitat requirement, the students could calculate metrics of river health. They found the Rum River in northern Anoka County is in good health, and has remained so over the years.

The program to combine education and data collection is ongoing thanks to support from the American Legion. While over 1,000 high school students monitored the river’s health 2000-2015, the program’s funding source faltered thereafter. The program shut down for three years. In 2019 the program was restarted, thanks to financial help from the American Legion. That year 40 students again entered the river with nets. The funding and work is planned to continue in 2020.

Leadership for river stewardship projects like this is provided by the URRWMO. The URRWMO is a special purpose unit of government formed by the cities of Bethel, East Bethel, Ham Lake, Oak Grove, Nowthen and St. Francis. Its purpose is to manage the area’s waters, particularly those that flow across city boundaries. For more information visit URRWMO.org.

Jamie Schurbon is the Watershed Projects Manager for the Anoka Conservation District. In this role, Jamie works with the Upper Rum River Watershed Organization and other watershed groups in Anoka County. The ACD’s website is at anokaswcd.org.

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