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Troubled Waters: A Mississippi River Story

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Troubled Waters: A Mississippi River Story
Produced byLarkin McPhee, Barbara Coffin, Bell Museum of Natural History
CinematographyMatt Ehling
Distributed byVideo Project
Release date
3 October 2010
Running time
57 mins

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Troubled Waters: A Mississippi River Story is a documentary film about the relationship between farming practices, soil erosion, and water pollution.


This documentary film depicts degradation of soil quality and contamination of streams, rivers, and other water bodies including the Mississippi River and the Gulf of Mexico as unintended consequences of the agricultural system predominant in the Upper Midwest of the United States, which is highly productive but heavily dependent on the application of large amount of nitrogen and phosphorous fertilizers and on intensive cultivation. The film also explains the importance of taking steps to replace current farming techniques with more sustainable practices.[1] Reviewers praised the film's presentation of established science regarding the causes of the "Dead Zone" in the Gulf of Mexico, along with examples of farmers implementing practices to address various causes of pollution. [2][3][4] Troubled Waters: A Mississippi River Story was awarded three Emmys in 2011, including Best Topical Documentary, Best Writer of Program (non-news), and Best Editor of Program (non-news).[5]


The production budget for the documentary was $500,000. The largest share was $349,000 provided by the Minnesota Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund as allocated by Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources (LCCMR). Additional funding was provided by the McKnight Foundation and the Mississippi River Fund. [6]


University of Minnesota Vice President for University Relations Karen Himle intervened to cancel the film's premier on Twin Cities Public Television approximately one month prior to its scheduled broadcast. This decision was made without informing the film's produces or funders. News of Himle's decision led to public outcry and calls for her resignation. The cancellation was reversed, and the film was broadcast on the originally scheduled date.[7] Administrators in the University's College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences objected to elements of the film, but denied playing a role in the decision to cancel the premier.[8] The episode led to a series of discussions related to academic freedom at the University, and ultimately to new measures protect academic work from pressures from administrators and donors. [9]


  1. "Troubled Waters: A Mississippi River Story". WorldCat. Retrieved 18 February 2021.
  2. Crossfield, Paula. "The 'Troubled Waters' of Big Ag's academic influence". Grist. Retrieved 19 February 2021.
  3. Wheeler, Jacob (Spring 2011). "Drowning Academic Freedom". Earth Island Journal. 26 (1): 60. Retrieved 19 February 2021.
  4. "Recommended Films". Peace Review. 27 (2): 263–273. April–June 2015. doi:10.1080/10402659.2015.1037674.CS1 maint: Date format (link)
  5. "Projects". Larkin McPhee Productions. Retrieved 18 February 2021.
  6. "Final Report: Waters of Minnesota: Television/Outreach Documentary on Watersheds" (PDF). Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources. Retrieved 19 February 2021.
  7. Meersman, Tom (15 October 2010). "U official apologizes for pulling plug on 'Troubled Waters'". StarTribune. Retrieved 18 February 2021.
  8. Hemphill, Stephanie (18 September 2010). "U of M dean says 'Troubled Waters' film 'vilifies agriculture'". MPR News. Retrieved 18 February 2021.
  9. Priesmeyer, Molly (May–June 2012). "Troubled Waters for the University of Minnesota". Academe. 98 (3): 28–32. Retrieved 19 February 2021.CS1 maint: Date format (link)

Category:2010 films Category:American documentary films Category:Documentary films about water and the environment Category:Environmental controversies

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