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Extension > Regional Sustainable Development Partnerships > RSDP Newsletter > RSDP Happenings - Focus: Lake Pepin

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RSDP Happenings - Focus: Lake Pepin

December 2016

By Elizabeth Braatz

"We Live in the Lake" video

Lake Pepin is the endpoint of the most polluted stretch of the Mississippi River in the state. Nearly 1 million tons of sediment are deposited each year, primarily from the Minnesota River. Sedimentation rates are 10 times higher than they were 150 years ago, and by the end of the century the entire upper end of Lake Pepin will be completely filled if no restorative efforts occur.

Lake Pepin. Photo by Dan Traun.

Luckily, a lot of people care about Lake Pepin and are working to spread awareness and promote conservation efforts. In a lighthearted educational video promoting these efforts to protect Lake Pepin, Lake Pepin Legacy Alliance (LPLA) Executive Director Rylee Main, St. Croix River Association (SCRA) River Corridor Steward Natalie Warren, and University of Minnesota Extension Southeast Regional Sustainable Development Partnership (RSDP) Executive Director Erin Meier perform together about the importance of Lake Pepin. Although the call for help for Lake Pepin is quite serious, the video highlights that sedimentation is something we can solve.

Steps to start solving excess sedimentation

The video highlighted some very simple steps to reduce sedimentation:

  1. Learn about lake sedimentation.
  2. Join the LPLA crew.
  3. Volunteer!

Although some of these things can only be done by people who live near Lake Pepin, the video also brings to attention a wider problem that could use everybody’s help. Warren explained, “The video suggested things that people who are local to Lake Pepin can do, but the issue extends so much further than just the lake. A lot of the sediment in Lake Pepin comes from the Minnesota River. So it’s not just what we can do in Lake Pepin, but what we can do for [our waterways as a whole]. Water is connected, and there are similar issues [in many watersheds].”

Local residents and LPLA members gather in Stockholm, Wisconsin, to learn about what can be done to address sediment coming from agricultural areas in the Minnesota River basin. Photo by Anne Queenan.

Main agreed. “People need to understand what’s going on under the surface of the water.”

The LPLA is working with the Army Corps of Engineers to restore the lake, creating islands to protect and restore habitat from destructive sediment flow. This sediment is significant. Meier said, “If we don’t do something [about sedimentation] now, Lake Pepin is going to become a dead lake.” Luckily, as the Lake Pepin video explains, there are plenty of things that people can do.

Sneak peaks behind the scenes

The video wouldn’t be possible without plenty of work behind the scenes. The idea began with Main. She reached out to Southeast RSDP, and Main, Meier, and (then) RSDP contract staff Beth Kallestad reached out to the University of Minnesota Communication Studies department. Dr. Mark Pedelty, who is a Professor of Communication Studies and Institute on the Environment (IonE) Fellow, was happy to create a video with them. As Dr. Pedelty explained, “I … believe that creative music and social media can do a lot to reach new audiences and get a message out to the community. … Our goal was to get beyond those already involved and speak to others who ‘live in the lake,’ from anglers and sailors to paddlers and picnickers, using entertaining imagery and enough factual information to make people want to know and do more.”

LPLA organized a boat tour for local artists to learn more about threats to Lake Pepin, and how they can help spread the word through their work. Many of these artists contributed images for the filming of "We Live in the Lake." Photo by Samantha Bengs.

Warren agreed. “I think it’s a really fun, creative way to get younger people excited and involved in things.”

Having decided on the general idea behind the video, the team began making it happen. Warren already plays the saxophone as a hobby, so she played in the background and also joined Meier and Main as a lead actor. “It was a lot of fun!” recalled Warren. “Everyone turned out and just had a good time with it. … It’s always really good to reconnect with people like that.”

Similarly, Meier said, “It was totally fun. They’re both just great women doing great work, so it was really fun to just spend a day goofing around with them and making music videos.”

LPLA Executive Director Rylee Main (left), SCRA River Corridor Steward Natalie Warren (center), and Southeast RSDP Executive Director Erin Meier film the video. Photo by Mark Pedelty.

Although the green screen shots were initially difficult for the project’s budget, it soon turned into one of the most enjoyable parts of the project as local community videographers started pitching in. Dr. Pedelty, who directed the video, said, “The green screen shoot was a blast. Natalie, Rylee, and Erin … really made the video work.”

Meanwhile, Karl Demer, owner of Atomic K Studios, made the animation possible. Big John Games granted Demer rights to manipulate animation from Bass Pro’s “The Strike” game, and with it Demer made the video’s characteristic dancing fish. Atomic K Studios and Big John Games have long been valued partners with the University, and provided animation for this video that would normally be cost-prohibitive to project partners.

Atomic K Studios and Big John Games provided animation for the video.

Pedelty recalled, “Rylee first came to me with the request to have a speaking fish, and I said ‘too expensive.’” According to Meier, Pedelty galvanized many resources for the project valued well beyond Southeast RSDP’s support. In addition to the talents of Atomic K Studios, local artists donated their time and talents to writing and performing the theme song with Pedelty. “A catchy musical refrain and four fish later, we had the animated part of the video!” he said.

Setting the scene for the future

Although the video only takes two minutes to watch, responding to even a few of the action items it offers can lead to a lifestyle of greater thoughtfulness and generations of cleaner waters.

Watch the completed “We Live in the Lake” video on YouTube.

There are plenty of opportunities to volunteer, donate, educate others, or improve our own gardens to help our lakes and rivers. The LPLA Facebook page keeps viewers updated with ways to get involved and help out. The group is working toward a major island-building and backwater dredging restoration project to improve small boat navigation, water clarity, and aquatic vegetation, and they need our support. Likewise, the SCRA page has plenty of links to join newsletters, volunteer, write to legislators, and more. And finally, if you want to hear more catchy music videos about environmental issues and organizations, check out  As Dr. Pedelty explained, the group produces music videos and social media outreach campaigns that help community partners achieve their goals.

Lake PepinLake Pepin. Photo by David Meixner.

Elizabeth Braatz is a student in the College of Food, Agricultural, and Natural Resources Sciences (CFANS) majoring in Environmental Sciences, Policy, and Management. She works with RSDP as a Student Writer/Communications Assistant.

RSDP connects communities with the resources of the University of Minnesota to drive sustainability in Greater Minnesota, and is part of University of Minnesota Extension.
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