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Viewpoint: Kinni is a keeper

A couple of weeks ago I happened upon an article which covered the auction of memoirs from Albert Einstein. The memoir that fetched the highest price was his theory of happiness — not relativity! The bidding on that theory, handwritten on a scrap piece of paper, started at $2,000 and sold for $1.2 million. It said:

"A calm and modest life brings more happiness than the pursuit of success combined with constant restlessness."

As I reflected on that message, it occurred to me that this theory captures the reasoning behind why so many of us have worked so hard for nearly 25 years to protect the Kinni and its watershed. To many there is no more calming effect than to watch, paddle or wade in a clean, clear running stream. Each day, the river gives you a new experience, free from whatever pressure modern life brings. The key to letting the river work for you is to slow down and immerse yourself in the flow.

The Kinni continues to give those opportunities to those who live here and those who travel here to appreciate its beauty and the opportunity to hike, fish or kayak. With the Kinni however, we also need to be careful to not love our river to death, because it is our responsibility to preserve and enhance the river for generations, not to harness or over-develop the stream along its banks or watershed.

Over 30 years ago, I put my 2.5-year-old son in a backpack and hiked into the Kinni Canyon for his first trout fishing experience. With the help of an abundant supply of grasshoppers (and a little help from dad), he caught his first limit of trout. Today, he has become an avid trout fisherman and one willing to do his part to help protect those special places where trout live. It brought tears to my eyes to see my son read to my new grandson Charlie from "The Fishing River." I am sure Charlie will be in a backpack along the Kinni this summer.

Very soon, the City of River Falls will need to make a decision on the relicensing of the two dams which impede the flow of the river. The hydro power generated by these dams is minimal and can be easily replaced at or below the cost of generation by the municipal utility. Cost sharing programs from federal and state sources are available — provided the City and its consultants follow proper planning protocols — to minimize the impact to local property owners from dam removal and stream restoration.

To many in this community the Kinni shapes our identity and is a key source of pride. Hundreds of communities in Wisconsin have dams creating millponds to provide power for bygone generations.

None, however, have a resource as precious and unique as the Kinnickinnic River.

Because of our proximity to the prosperous Twin Cities metro area and a new four-lane highway

connection, we are now an easy commute and face considerable development pressure. We need to support the City's efforts to control the quality and density of development to maintain the water quality and temperature trout need to survive.

We also need to acknowledge that decades of scientific study have shown that the sediment-laden ponds created by the dams in River Falls negatively impact the water quality in the lower Kinni and will become increasingly more harmful as development occurs within the watershed and as climatic warming trends continue.

The waters of Lake George and Louise are able to support the occasional trout in the winter, when oxygen levels allow them to survive, as also happens in the Mississippi River. No one considers the Mississippi as trout water. No one should suggest Lake George or Louise are trout habitat, because they simply aren't. With the dams in River Falls removed, however, nearly a mile of stream could be re-established as Class I trout water in the heart of the City. Who else can say that?

For these reasons the Kinnickinnic River Land Trust (KRLT) adopted a resolution in 2014 that encouraged the City of River Falls to pursue a process leading to the removal of the dams for the health of the river, for the benefit of the River Falls community, and to help ensure a free-flowing cold water natural resource for years to come.

Please encourage the City staff and council members to pursue the right path for the long term health of our precious river. The first decision the City Council needs to make in February pertains to relicensing the hydro power systems on the Lake George and Louise dams. The term of a new license from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is now 40 years. Why renew an antiquated system at the risk of endangering a precious natural resource in the heart of our downtown. The time is now to start the process of ensuring the long-term health of our river. I am quite sure that Albert Einstein would concur and I know that Charlie will thank you.