Our Earth Month sustainability series is made possible by the support of Friends of the Big Sioux River. They're celebrating Earth Day with a new release of Big Sioux Brew and river clean-up events throughout the watershed. Learn more about their mission here.

Travis Entenman is director of the Friends of the Big Sioux River, an organization that tracks water quality and advocates for policies that prioritize keeping the river clean. We sat down with Travis as part of our ongoing sustainability series to talk about why water quality is important.

How did you ‘get smart’ about water quality – i.e. what in your background or in your own research/activities prepared you for your role with Friends of the Big Sioux River?

Growing up in South Dakota, I’ve always had a passion for our natural environment.

  • But it took me going to graduate school to get my master’s in environmental law and policy to really understand the issues we’re facing.
  • After graduating, I had incredible mentors that helped me understand and navigate the environmental issues we face in South Dakota.

We’re all about simplicity here. Can you describe the work Friends of the Big Sioux River does in 10 words or less?

We’re on a mission to change the way we all think about our relationship with our river.

What’s something people most often misunderstand about water quality or Friends of the Big Sioux River? (And, if you could politely correct them, what would you say?)

The Big Sioux River was not always full of E. coli and did not always look like chocolate milk.

  • We used to enjoy a crystal-clear river that was upwards of 8 feet deep.

The river is really the reason westerners settled this area and gave us the conditions to be an agricultural powerhouse. It’s also the reason we’re investing millions of dollars in new development along its back.

We’ve always treated it as an asset but haven’t given it the respect it deserves, as you can see in its pollution levels.

Water quality feels like either A) potentially confusing or boring or B) something that's too big of a topic for any one person to make a difference. Why should the average person care about the quality of the Big Sioux River?

The quality of our water is essential to our daily lives.

Depending on where you live and work, you get your drinking water from the Big Sioux River.

  • We recreate in and around the river. We develop along the banks of the river.

Imagine the increased tourism we could see if you had a healthy, vibrate river. Imagine the types of folks and businesses we could recruit to South Dakota if we had a world class river system in our backyard.

The water quality of the river impacts your daily life, whether you know it or not.

It's no secret the Big Sioux River is polluted, but if you could wave a magic wand and clean it tomorrow, what's the first thing you'd do (recreationally or otherwise)

Take my kids swimming and high five a stranger.

What’s your advice for someone who wants to learn more about either the importance of water quality or how to help clean the Big Sioux?

Get yourself familiar with the river.

  • Ride the bike trail, pick up some trash, volunteer to water test.
  • When you get next to the river and get your hands dirty, you’ll start to understand what’s happening to the water.

If this is something you’re concerned about, start talking to your elected officials.

  • At the end of the day, the decision they make will have the biggest impact on the river’s future.

Anything else you want the people of Sioux Falls to know about you or Friends of the Big Sioux River?

Make sure to follow FBSR on social and check out our website for more information about our river and the current impacts.

And get outside and enjoy our natural environment.