“Troubled Waters” balancing act


The University of Minnesota back-tracked last week on its decision to stop the premiere of the documentary “Troubled Waters: A Mississippi River Story” on October 3 at the Bell Museum. IATP, the Land Stewardship Project, and dozen other Minnesota groups called out the U (see our letter and press release) for what appeared to be an attempt to staunch academic freedom. The film explores the connection between agriculture and pollution in the Mississippi River and the Gulf of Mexico. The U’s reasons for trying to stop “Troubled Waters” are still not entirely clear, although Agriculture Dean Allen Levine at one point said the film “vilifies agriculture” and that he considered it unbalanced.

Bringing “balance” into the equation when you’re talking about agriculture and the Mississippi is more than a little ironic – our industrial agriculture system is the definition of unbalanced. The way we produce corn and soybeans requires vast quantities of fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides, a lot of which, along with sediment, get washed out of farm fields, trickle into the Mississippi, and eventually wash into the Gulf of Mexico. The end result: a river and its tributaries contaminated with high levels of nitrates, atrazine, and other health- and eco-hazards, and a dead zone in the Gulf the size of Massachusetts (this year).

What’s curious about Dean Levine’s statement is that the film, in fact, highlights the efforts of Minnesota farmers like Tony Thompson who are working hard to decrease their impacts downstream. From riparian buffers, to cover crops, to more perennials, to better calibrated fertilizer application – there are lots of ways farmers can decrease the nutrient load they send down the river. This, one would think, would be exactly the kind of important, “balanced” information the U would want to promote.

We’re still waiting to hear if the film will be shown as previously scheduled on Twin Cities Public Television on October 5, and we’ll continue to insist on transparency from the U around this and similar decisions in the future. In the meantime, if you’re in town, get your tickets to the show, they’re going fast. See you there.