Christine Lee: Something Good from 'Troubled Waters'
It’s gotten an enormous amount of hype, sometimes for the wrong reasons, but I finally saw Troubled Waters: A Mississippi River Story this week. I was happy to move on from the scandal that had been surrounding it, for two reasons: the facts that the movie actually present should be more widely discussed than the reasons for its initial delay, and because, as a graduate from the U, I was growing weary of the enormous criticisms the University as a whole was drawing simply for the mistakes of one off-base employee. So, on to the important stuff: I enjoyed all of it, from its clear presentation of the issues facing the Mississippi River to its segments focusing on all sorts of different Minnesota farmers who are doing the right thing on their farms.
Oddly, one of the topics mentioned in the film that most strongly struck me was the discussion of the Koda Energy plant in Shakopee, Minnesota. The plant became operational in mid-2009 and was the first biomass facility in Minnesota to burn only natural materials. Koda operates by burning natural materials like wood chips, prairie grass, and – most endearingly – oat hulls (that is, the center part of a Cheerio and other leftovers donated by nearby General Mills).
All of their materials come from within a sixty mile radius of the plant.
Koda Energy produce both heat and electricity that they then sell back to the grid. This is true renewable energy that is benefiting Minnesota by reducing our reliance on nonrenewable fossil fuels and by providing jobs to the area.
The plant was featured in Troubled Waters
because of a service it provides to area farmers: encouraging them to plant prairie grasses by buying them back at a reasonable rate. The current setup of the federal Farm Bill encourages almost solely corn to be grown in Minnesota. Now, farmers can grow prairie grasses and sell them to Koda Energy for a profit. These natural grasses are enormously beneficial:
• Their deep root systems filter groundwater and survive droughts better than corn or other crops;
• They require the application of significantly less nitrogen- and phosphorus-rich fertilizer;
• They are perennials so they require no reseeding each year;
• They prevent erosion along streambanks which contribute to sediment flow; and
• They are natural habitat for local wildlife. An amazing array of benefits!
The Koda Energy Plant was a small aspect of the film, yet it really resonated with me. I was amazed by the clear and straightforward ideas and theories which are still so uncommon and revolutionary in the United States. I am proud that this plant is in Minnesota, and I hope more energy plants continue to follow suit!
Christine Lee grew up in Madison, Wisconsin and graduated from the University of Minnesota with a degree in Environmental Education and Communication. She is currently the Event Marketing and Logistics Coordinator for Friends of the Mississippi River.