LA CRESCENT, Minn. — A tree cracked and fell into the steady flow of the Mississippi River on Wednesday as nearby lawmakers detailed a new bill designed to monitor river sediment and reduce erosion.

The noise startled the crowd, assembled near the river to hear Sen. Amy Klobuchar, DFL-Minn., and U.S. Rep. Ron Kind, D-Wis., explain the proposed Upper Mississippi River Basin Protection Act.

“It said it all when we heard that crack,” Klobuchar said. “We don’t want to lose our way of life in Minnesota and Wisconsin.”

The bill would establish a better system for measuring sediment and nutrients in the river in an effort to reduce unnatural chemicals that create a hypoxic “dead zone” in the Gulf of Mexico, Kind said.

“It’s another step of many steps we need to take to be good stewards,” he said.

The House passed its version of the bill in March. Kind has introduced similar bills in each of the past seven years, but all failed to reach the Senate floor. This time, Klobuchar has championed the bill in the Senate, where it is making its way through committee.

The measure does not call for increased regulations. The lawmakers say it simply provides more resources for scientists tracking river pollution.

The new act would facilitate upgrades to existing gauge stations, and data would be assembled by the U.S. Geological Survey, with the federal government setting aside $6.25 million a year for upkeep.

Dredging sediment from the river costs taxpayers more than $100 million a year — work necessary to keep the channel open for commercial and recreational boating.

A wide network of tributaries brings topsoil to the Mississippi River from farms across the Midwest. There are more than 600 cold water streams in the Driftless Area alone, which includes southeast Minnesota and parts of Wisconsin, Iowa and Illinois.

“As you drive around the Driftless Area, you see this consistent pattern of degradation,” said John Welter, a representative for Trout Unlimited.

Farmers can prevent erosion by keeping natural vegetation near streams and by creating buffer contour strips to channel chemicals away from natural bodies of water.

The measures are a good way for the Midwest to do its part in quelling the growing disaster in the Gulf, Klobuchar said.

“This is a year,” she said, “when ‘conservation’ is going to start being a good word.”

By Patrick B. Anderson