The Rivers


An unnamed walker on Hudson, Wisconsin’s old toll road one Saturday morning felt lucky to bump into a face from the past. How early in the morning? The exact time was insignificant, but early enough for it to be darker than it was lighter. Walkers at this hour likely subscribe to beating other walkers and runners who sleep past 6:00 a.m.

The face from the past said he retired several years back. He reminded the unnamed walker that he grew up in Hudson and witnessed many, many changes. The St. Croix River was his to explore, which included running a trapline and having local knowledge of fishing holes, starting as a six-year old. He also mentioned seeing campfires from hobo encampments on sandbars near the pivoting swing bridge upstream from the toll road. The hobos frequented the sandbars and eventually moved on, never doing any real damage. Hop a train from the swing bridge and they were gone. It was their way of life in early Hudson.

Saturday’s chance conversation got the unnamed walker thinking, maybe too much thinking. Thinking first about rivers, and then about Bruce Springsteen . . . and later, about the local treasures – the St. Croix, Apple, Willow, Rush, Eau Galle, and Kinni.

Springsteen’s chorus for his 1980 song The River goes something like, “We’d go down to the river, and into the river we’d dive, Oh, down to the river we’d ride.” Wiki says throughout the song the river is viewed as a symbol for the dreams of the future. The song’s narrator keeps his hopes alive even as they begin to fail. Later the narrator asks, “Is a dream a lie if it don’t come true or is it something worse?”

As St. Croix County continues to grow, pristine water resources could be threatened more than ever. Residential growth is comprised of urban dwellers and rural dwellers. City dwellers have access to closed loop municipal water and sewer services. Water comes from deep wells and is treated before a distribution network of buried pipes brings it to homes. Waste water is piped to a facility for processing before it’s discharged as a cleaner, more neutral product. Country dwellers drill private wells for their water source. Waste ends up in a POWTS – private onsite wastewater treatment system.

Too many private wells and POWTS, along with runoff from farm fertilizers, over-manicured suburban lawns, and waste from a thousand head of dairy cattle all named Bessie are bound to present risks or threats. Fortunately, land uses are regulated at the town (township), village, city, or county level. Some local staff may possess credentials as water resource or environmental specialists. Wisconsin has its Department of Natural Resources, too. St. Croix County uses the mantra, Innovation Through Cooperation. It will take a whole lot of both to protect the surface and groundwater resources.

Solutions to ag and dairy waste are emerging. Rolling them out takes innovation and cooperation. The big winners are local residents who deserve clean water. Clean water contributes to greater livability for the region.

If Springsteen’s river is a symbol of dreams for the future, then the St. Croix, Apple, Willow, Rush, Eau Galle, and Kinni are St. Croix’s future. Protecting them and ensuring a better region starts with Innovation Through Cooperation. Just like the changes witnessed by the retired walker, more changes are on the horizon to ensure the vitality of water resources.