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RIVER LIFE

Minnesota’s Clean Water Fund: Working Well, but Restoring Water Takes a Long Time

In 2008, Minnesota voters passed an amendment to the state constitution establishing a 25 year fund to support the state’s clean water, land, heritage, and parks and trails programs.  To date, that fund has allocated some $760 million toward restoration of the state’s surface waters; the state Department of Natural Resources estimates that 40% of the state’s lakes, rivers and streams are “impaired,” that is, unfit for fishing or swimming.

So how is the state doing with the infusion of cleanup funds? The Office of the Legislative Auditor released a report this week suggesting that the funds are being spent appropriately, but that it’s still too early to measure results in terms of cleaner waters.

Two conclusions can be reached:

First, the clean bill of health regarding agency processes and spending efforts is very good news.  There are some relatively minor hiccups regarding precisely what spending is allowable, but the Legislative Auditor’s report recognizes that the program is working well.  For any program with a sizable amount of money, that’s a good sign, and a welcome affirmation of government agencies doing a good job on important work.

Second, as coverage by Minnesota Public Radio says, making a measurable change in water quality takes a long time.  Using Clean Water Legacy funds, the state has sped up collection of water quality data across the state’s 80-some watersheds, but it will take a 10 year cycle of revisiting and remeasuring those watersheds to determine how much actual progress is being made in the field.  As the Auditor’s project manager notes, “It also takes a long time to restore water,”

That’s a point that should not be lost on any of us. It’s easier to keep water clean in the first place than it is to clean it after pollution has occurred.

 

Open Rivers Issue 5 Now Available: Networks and Collaboration

When I got fully engaged with Mississippi River work, in the mid-90s, there was a lot of talk about public-private partnerships. That has ebbed and flowed and morphed over the years, but the idea of partnership has remained. Pretty much anyone in any sector—public, nonprofit, or corporate—understands that work beyond a small one-time project rarely happens through just one entity.

The features in this issue celebrate partnership and collaboration. Taken separately or together, this issue’s articles focus on community work as opposed to scholarship. They will, we hope, show community folks the work of others that they can learn from. We hope also that campus people can see the range of community partners and what they do, and see possibilities for expanding their engagement in particular ways they hadn’t thought of. These articles illustrate a range of ways to engage in collaboration; if you know of a great collaboration that is not mentioned here, let us know and maybe we can get that case written up for a future issue.

Our Minneapolis campus is almost completely within the boundaries of the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area, a unit of the National Park System that is known as a “partnership park.” The feature by Superintendent John Anfinson (A U of M graduate, by the way) examines a number of the formal partnerships that enable the park to do the work that makes it successful. Our River Life program, as well as any number of individual researchers and instructors, has worked with park staff on a variety of projects over the years; we will have to figure out how all of that work can be rolled into a more formal agreement. That agreement would be a significant asset for the University and we trust it would be valuable for the park as well.

The work of the Healing Place Collaborative shares a geography with the local national park unit, but operates quite differently. The series of interviews offered here reflect the decentralized nature of the Collaborative’s work, and the myriad ways that significant work is taking place by partners either individually or in various combinations, but all working under the aegis of “healing,” “place,” and “water.” The Collaborative’s November meeting perhaps exemplified the mutual strength members give each other; “How We Are Caring,” a collection of reflections from that meeting, is included as a sidebar to the multiple voices in the article authored by Martin Case.

Diagram of the Healing Place Collaborative members’ working relationships.

The river in our community is, of course, connected to the broader Mississippi River and, through the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico. Two additional features in this issue trace collaborative efforts that work toward the overall health of these waters. Kelly McGinnis articulates a number of the key principles underlying the collaborations among 50+ organizations of the Mississippi River Network. America’s Wetland Foundation, as described in the article by Valsin Marmillion, works differently, by convening groups that don’t normally work together into efforts that find innovative responses to seemingly intractable solutions.

Collaborations among multiple partners can achieve great things, but there will always be a need for good, old-fashioned river advocacy. John Helland describes the general perspectives offered by some of the most prominent national river advocacy groups; nearly all of them can be followed through social media if any in particular pique your interest. On the subject of national perspectives on rivers, Joanne Richardson reviews the current touring exhibit, “Water/Ways,” which is anchored by the Smithsonian’s Museum on Main Street show on the importance of water in our lives.

Our final three columns bring us back to the campus of the University of Minnesota and its vicinity. Laura Matson offers an examination of the treaty provisions that underlie much of the conflict over the Dakota Access Pipeline and its crossing of the Missouri River near the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s reservation. The conflicts over water and the pipeline itself are fairly well known, but the treaty provisions are not.  Hilary Holmes describes for us a quite different geography, Bridal Veil Falls, which formerly fell untrammeled into the Mississippi River near Franklin Avenue in Minneapolis. Finally, Monica McKay gives us hope for the continuation of partnerships like those covered in this issue. Her account of various programs in the University of Minnesota’s Center for Community-Engaged Learning indicates that collaboration can, perhaps, be taught.

It is appropriate in these times that we write intentionally about “hope” and teaching early career people about patterns of collaboration.  As I discuss more fully here these are challenging times for people committed to issues of water, sustainability, place, and equity.  I welcome your comments.

That is indeed a hopeful lesson for us all. Happy reading, everyone!

Follow this link for Open Rivers, Issue Five : Networks and Collaboration.

Minnesota’s Water Future: TBD

For all of its much-vaunted reputation as the “Land of 10,000 Lakes” and the “Land of Sky-Blue Waters,” the wide public discussion of Minnesota’s water future is a recent phenomenon.  But we are certainly making up for lost time!

Two weeks ago, state leaders hosted the second Minnesota Water Summit, in the western Minnesota town of Morris.  True to expectations, the non-metro location served well for a broad-ranging discussion of water and agriculture, as well as the particular problems facing small communities with aging water systems.  Unfortunately, most of the news coverage was from smaller newspapers, but people who really want to get a sense of the discussion can go to Twitter and follow the hashtag #MNWaterSummit.

Last week, the University of Minnesota’s St. Paul campus was the location for the Minnesota Environmental Congress, organized by the state’s Environmental Quality Board (EQB).  As befits the EQB’s broad range of concerns, the issues here were not just about water, but ranged across subjects as varied as pollinator protection and community engagement.  A thought-provoking panel on environmental justice closed the day.

The EQB event was notable, though, for the headlines it generated from Governor Mark Dayton’s remarks, which largely focused on water protection.  Continuing a theme that Dayton has made an important part of his work, the governor asserted that “Clean water is your right, and also your responsibility. And it’s mine, too.”  We’ll revisit this point in the future, I am sure.  The primary water headline from the day was Dayton’s call for the state to reduce water pollution levels by 25% by 2025.  All agreed that meeting that goal would be a “tough lift,” but that the hard work has to start with big goals.

Finally, our program is organizing a panel discussion for this coming Thursday, on “We Are Water: the University and Minnesota’s Water Future.”  The event, which is free and open to the public, will be held 3:30-5:00 in the Best Buy Theater, in Northrop Auditorium.  Northrop is on the University’s East Bank campus in Minneapolis.  More details are at the web site linked above.  Hope you can make it!

 

River Life: Place, Water, Community

Download a PDF of this blog post here (4 MB)

Over the past few months, River Life has found its focus shifting a bit. Since 2005, we have worked to raise the visibility of the Mississippi River, particularly on the campus of the University of Minnesota, which is bisected by the river in Minneapolis. We have written about the river, essentially, as a physical spatial phenomenon, raising and exploring issues arising from its “materiality” as our scholarly colleagues put it. People, programs, projects; if they were about the Mississippi, we included them.

More recently, we have found ourselves concentrating on matters affecting the river’s future, particularly how that future can be driven by more sustainable and inclusive planning. Examples that our community partners could learn from are all over the country; our role is to bring those to light and make them available to our collaborators, who are too busy doing their primary jobs to have time for this kind of broad-field research. We want to contribute perspectives and news that our partners haven’t got time or space for.

Our program hasn’t got resource management responsibilities, nor are we charged with public programming. Instead, we work with people in organizations such as the National Park ServiceMinneapolis Park and Recreation Board, the Minnesota Humanities Center, and Minnesota Historical Society, who do have statutory responsibilities for public space and public programs. Together with community-based partners such as Works Progress, the Healing Place Collaborative, and the Mississippi River Network, we provide new ideas, access to innovative insights, and perspectives that are grounded in the immediate and also reach forward into the possible. We want our readers and participants to come away from our work thinking “I had not thought of that before. Will have to consider that more.”

Our job got a lot harder Friday.

Unless you have just returned from Mars or some place, you know that the United States has a new President, one who seemingly is focused on undoing much of the work of the previous Administration. Together with our community partners and campus collaborators, we work on matters of water, place, and community, with an emphasis on efforts that increase inclusion, equity, and sustainability. The inauguration marks a clear change for all of us, particularly our federal colleagues. We will have to address this change, respond to it, but make our comments as little about partisanship and individual people as possible. Here are our thoughts, offered as a series of comments, each of which merits further research and elaboration, beyond the limits of this one post.

We are concerned by the new administration’s celebration of the private sphere over the public, seemingly in all areas of our society. The infrastructures of water—everything from drinking water pipes to inland waterway navigation structures, to sewer systems and everything else we have engineered to move water—is aging rapidly and nearing the end of its functional life in many respects. The new administration touts plans for infrastructure investment; we must be vigilant that these plans do not rely on private investment only, and the handing over of control and pricing of water to the highest private sector bidder. Privatization of urban water systems is still relatively rare in this country; further moves in this direction are to be viewed with caution.

The administration’s potential to erode the public sphere of our society shows itself also in immediate threats to programs such as the National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Endowment for the Arts. These programs in particular, which don’t cost much as federal programs go, provide an essential function of “jump starting” new ideas and innovations, the fruits of which come to light in succeeding years and decades.

As our friends at the Penn Environmental Humanities Lab have demonstrated so dramatically, the new administration poses a direct threat to the importance of science in the public sphere. “Data rescue” operations are vital, but the ongoing de-emphasis of science in agencies such as the EPA, NOAA, and the National Park Service poses a broad-based threat to our ability to combat climate change, develop responses to water pollution, or devise innovative ways to increase agricultural yields.

Our work at River Life is grounded in a conviction that public space has to be public for all, and that the right of all of the people to peaceably assemble and address their grievances (to use Constitution-era language for “gather and protest”) is fundamental. Many of our iconic public spaces, in the Twin Cities and beyond, are associated with water; think of the Mississippi Riverfront and the pathways around the various lakes and creeks in the cities. Now imagine those spaces privatized, sold to the highest bidder and restricted to public use, or on days when the public can use them, seeing restricted uses. The new “park” around the Vikings stadium in Minneapolis already points in this direction, of “privatized public space.” We fear that more of this is coming.  We are further concerned that discussions about the importance of the river, or parks, lakes and creeks, just involve the “usual suspects,” namely, generally affluent, readily self-identified “environmentalists.”  Public spaces are often fraught for communities of color and Indigenous people, and the “meaning” of water has many dimensions that go beyond our usual reckoning.  These concepts must be part of our ongoing considerations.

Our work on questions at the nexus of place, water, and community means we will continue to attend to issues and matters that may not appear directly to be associated with the Mississippi River. The river, though, is a system that reflects our human systems in many ways, some of which are less evident than others. We know that the Mississippi is a “river of history,” and a “river of nature.” Shall it be seen as a “river of money”? A “river of colonization”? Other people have addressed these complexities; we need to find them and learn from their experiences.

Mississippi River, looking downstream from St. Paul, Minnesota. Image circa 1870’s.
Image from the collections of the Minnesota Historical Society.

Finally, the recent administrative changes at both the federal and state levels (Minnesota’s legislature saw partisan rearrangements as a result of November’s election as well) emphasize our roles and responsibilities as a public educational institution. To put matters simply: our “.edu” digital environment imposes on us the responsibility to “get it right,” to produce and share knowledge that is reliable and verifiable. Knowledge, we all know, is becoming increasingly contested. We owe our partners, and ourselves, our best efforts to share knowledge that solves problems, addresses community needs, and shapes the future that we envision.

Network diagram of the Healing Place Collaborative, courtesy of Mona Smith.

Announcing Open Rivers Issue 4: “Interventions”

November 2, 2016Patrick NunnallyProgram & AnnouncementsComments Off on Announcing Open Rivers Issue 4: “Interventions”

We just published our 4th issue of Open Rivers: Rethinking the Mississippi.  It is accessible at the journal’s web site; pasted below is our Introduction to the issue.

For as long as people have been living with rivers, we have been changing them.  Put up a levee to keep water away from where we don’t want it. Build a canal to move water to where we do want it.  Put up a dam to stop floods, or generate water power.  Over millennia, the possibilities have been endless.

More recently, though, we have started something new: intervening in rivers to undo some of the changes we have previously made.  My review of a couple of programs across the country gives a broad context for what has become a growing pattern of dam removal and alteration.

Close to home, the Upper St. Anthony Lock was closed in June 2015.  That decision led to a study that asked: just what do we know about how the river’s biological and physical systems are behaving at this point, now that the dam has closed? Can we establish some scientific baseline data so that we can begin to monitor how the river behaves now that the lock will not reopen?

Some answers to these questions are detailed in Jane Mazack’s feature article “The Once and Future River.”  Fellow scientists Jessica Kozarek and Carrie Jennings also contribute perspectives on the sorts of insights that come from detailed studies of particular river reaches.

Unfortunately, often rivers make the news through their destructive capacity.  Last month’s Hurricane Matthew unleashed torrents of rain, storm surge and other watery mayhem on the lowlying areas in eastern North Carolina.  In our Issue 2, published last spring, Richard M. Mizelle Jr. wrote about the racial dimensions of flooding in this landscape; we reprint his article here with a head note connecting to coverage of the recent floods.

Every issue of Open Rivers contains shorter pieces covering particular aspects of the study and understanding of rivers, and this one of course is no exception.  Laurie Moberg explores what we can learn from successive historic photographs of the site that now contains Minneapolis’ Upper Harbor Terminal, a landscape sure to change now that barge traffic has ceased.  Maxyne Friesen writes about how it felt to be an undergraduate student researcher on the bigger river study that Mazack led.  Tim Frye reviews recent scholarship on rivers in Latin America. Mona Smith reminds us that St. Anthony Falls contains much more than our scientific studies can ever understand.

All of which is to serve as a reminder for one of our basic principles: scientific study is necessary, but not sufficient, in generating the knowledge and perspectives that we need in order to plan for sustainable, inclusive futures for our relationships with rivers.

 

Happy reading!

Minnesota Water Resources Conference: Some Welcome Additions this Year

September 20, 2016Patrick NunnallyProgram & AnnouncementsComments Off on Minnesota Water Resources Conference: Some Welcome Additions this Year

The Minnesota Water Resources Conference brings scholars, agency staff, and practitioners together every year for a couple of days of panels, keynote talks, exhibits and poster sessions.  These are usually pretty standard, but useful, sessions, reinforcing our tendency to see water issues as matters of science and engineering.

Of course, water issues are not just matters of science and engineering, and this year’s conference has important sessions on social justice and national scale policy innovations which reflect an expanded vision of water’s importance.

These sessions are a great start; we hope they are just a start to a broader, more inclusive set of discussions.

Great Idea for a Strategic Plan: Take Advantage of Our Location

Everyone loves to hate strategic plans, right?  They are something else for management to drone on about, they rarely are connected to our everyday work, and they often just don’t make sense.

A place as big and complex as the University of Minnesota almost requires a strategic plan just so the hundreds of different units, departments, and centers all can have a sense that we work for the same place.  Of course, those hundreds of units mean a strategic plan is almost impossible to develop.  Nevertheless, the University of Minnesota recently adopted a strategic plan, one of the pillars of which is “Capitalize on our Unique Location.

Of course, this phrase means the location of the campus on the Mississippi River–what else could it be?  Actually, as you read the section, there’s a lot more to our location than just the river, but it’s gratifying to see that the river is in fact mentioned and pictured.  We can, and are, helping University officials think about how the campus can take advantage of the river location, and the community of people working on river issues.  It’s worth reiterating that “taking advantage of location” also means exploring the question of how the University’s teaching and research can be a resource for those communities as well.  One of our current questions is how we can expand the sense of “community” that is invested in the river.

We have some programs under way that are directly aligned with the University’s Strategic Plan, things like our new Open Rivers digital journal.  We are always looking for new ideas, though: What do you think the University should be doing to be a better resource for people working on a sustainable and inclusive future for the Mississippi River?  Let us know!

Innovations in Practice, Teaching, and Learning

August 23, 2016Patrick NunnallyProgram & AnnouncementsComments Off on Innovations in Practice, Teaching, and Learning

Given what we do–that is, explore innovative ways to manage, understand, and teach about the Mississippi River, we find ourselves learning about innovations of all sorts.  If you, also, are in the “innovation business” (or, with a nod to our NPS partners, in the “forever business” but looking for new ways of working), then the newest online seminar offering from the University’s Center for Educational Innovation may be for you.  The focus on intercultural inclusive teaching and learning makes this work strongly align with our emerging focus in this area.  Here’s the blurb for the course and links for more information:

The UMinnesota Center for Educational Innovation is offering an open, online seminar focusing on Intercultural Inclusive Learning and Teaching in higher education. The seminar involves participants in active discussion of the basics of universal design for learning as a foundation for discussing key contemporary issues in promoting social justice in the classroom.  From these discussions, participants build their own teaching and learning materials for current and/or future courses.  Past participants found seminar discussions deeply thought-provoking, shared materials diverse and useful, and badge-earning activities to practically assist them in developing better courses:

One thing that is bubbling up for me is the idea that discussion (in varying formats) coupled with some form of reflection (also in varying formats), offers tremendous potential to harness the power of difference….Sharing thoughts and ideas with a community so genuinely and deeply committed to this work has left me with much more than a set of ideas I can put into practice.  I am committed to helping build “a curriculum that deeply includes everybody.” – 2015 seminar participant

The seminar is designed for graduate- and professional-level learning, and we welcome multiple modes of participation in the seminar:

  • Participating in the forum discussions during some or all of the five modules to reflect on specific, personal or professional interests.
  • Using the module discussion forums as a springboard for participation in the badge-earning activities, which include peer and facilitator responding to teaching/learning artifacts or documents participants create.
  • Inviting a small group of peers to form a learning community, making use of the seminar materials for their own local conversations.
  • Drawing on the seminar modules as the base for a credit-bearing or professional development endeavor at their own institution.


To learn more visit learning4all.net. To register as a participant complete the Google Registration form at http://z.umn.edu/oops2016registration. To discuss earning graduate course credit at the University of Minnesota contact Ilene Dawn Alexander, the U’s instructor of record for this seminar.

Open Rivers Issue 3: Water, Art, and Ecology

August 9, 2016Patrick NunnallyProgram & AnnouncementsComments Off on Open Rivers Issue 3: Water, Art, and Ecology

We are very pleased to announce that Issue 3 of our online journal Open Rivers: Rethinking the Mississippi is now available.  Read it online and/or download PDFs (either of the entire issue or of particular parts).

This issue is largely oriented around a theme of “Water, Art, and Ecology.”  A year ago, as she was finishing her term as postdoctoral fellow with our Mellon-funded grant “Making the Mississippi,” Nenette Luarca-Shoaf suggested that maybe an issue could be devoted to recent artistic expressions of water.  She was in the middle of organizing a session of the 2015 Southeastern College Art Conference on “Fluid Currents: Water, Art, and Ecology,” and she thought some of the talks might lend themselves to this format.

Indeed they do.  Articles such as Jayne Wilkinson’s “Liquid Economies: Networks of the Anthropocene” both broaden and deepen out reach.  Wilkinson’s work considers waters from across the world and places images of these waters in popular and social discourses of environmental change, concerns about catastrophic climate alteration, and urgencies for action.  People whose daily work focuses on the future(s) of the Mississippi River would do well to gain insights from thoughtful, provocative treatments of other waters and issues that are connected to ours here, even though they appear far afield.

We’d like to think of this issue of Open Rivers as defining a particular, rich spot on a spectrum of publications on water.  Many of the features are grounded in humanist intellectual and scholarly conversations, though they address much broader issues.  They are all accessible to educated, informed, laypeople, although some of the necessarily specific language can be a reach for people not working in these particular fields.  But all of these pieces inform our broad project of understanding our relationships with water much more deeply and, from those understandings, formulating more sustainable and inclusive programs, policies, and research/teaching agendas.

Happy reading!  We would love to hear comments, either through the Comments feature here or to me directly at pdn@edu.  If you have suggestions for future issues or articles, we always welcome those as well.

A Sip of Science–The St Anthony Lock Has Closed, So How Is the River Doing?

May 9, 2016Patrick NunnallyEvents, Featured, Former Featured Posts, Program & AnnouncementsComments Off on A Sip of Science–The St Anthony Lock Has Closed, So How Is the River Doing?

This Wednesday May 11, A Sip of Science will feature a University of Minnesota graduate student reporting on a nearly-complete “literature review” and baseline assessment of the Mississippi River in Minneapolis.  We know the Corps of Engineers will not be dredging the former navigation channel, but how will the river’s water quality, aquatic ecology, and sediment systems respond?  We have to know where we are now to understand future changes, so the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources awarded a grant to the Minneapolis Riverfront Partnership to examine existing data on this stretch of the Mississippi and conduct very limited new studies.

Come to the Aster Cafe at 5:30 on Wednesday to hear Jane Mazack, a Ph.D. candidate in Water Resource Science at the U of M, report on the study.

More details below:

A SIP OF SCIENCE –
The lock is closed: what are the keys to river health?

Jane Mazack, PhD Candidate in Water Resources Science, University of Minnesota

Wednesday, May 11th, 2016  5:30p.m.  
Aster Cafe125 SE Main Street, St. Anthony Main, Minneapolis
No cover, Please RSVP!

 

A SIP OF SCIENCE bridges the gap between science and culture in a setting that bridges the gap between brain and belly.  Food, beer, and learning are on the menu in a happy hour forum that puts science in context through storytelling.

May 11th Event –

The Mississippi River has long been managed for navigation and transportation purposes. Last June, the St. Anthony Falls lock was closed to navigation and channel dredging was halted. These management actions are expected to change the physical, chemical, and biological condition of the river between the Coon Rapids and Ford Dams. Join us as Jane Mazack describes a current collaborative study between the Minneapolis Riverfront Partnership, Mississippi Watershed Management Organization, the University of Minnesota’s St. Anthony Falls Lab, and River Life program that investigates the keys to evaluating the impacts of the lock closure.

 

The talk takes place during happy hour at the Aster Cafe || Food and Drink Available for Purchase

ABOUT THIS MONTH’S SPEAKER

Jane Mazack is a PhD candidate in Water Resources Science at the University of Minnesota. She has a B.S. in Environmental Science from Calvin College in Michigan and a M.S. in Water Resources from the University of Minnesota. Her primary research interest is in aquatic ecology, and her dissertation research focuses on the winter dynamics of invertebrates in southeastern Minnesota trout streams.

ABOUT A SIP OF SCIENCE

A SIP OF SCIENCE is a science happy hour sponsored by the National Center for Earth-surface Dynamics (NCED). It is a chance to hear about new and exciting research over beer, in a cool bar.  Come talk with the experts about their efforts to address some of the Earth’s most pressing problems. NCED’s A SIP OF SCIENCE brings the wonder of science to happy hour.

Interested in hearing about Sip of Science events?  Join our mailing list.

Contact Us!
Send us a note at rvrlife@umn.edu to make suggestions for other places we should look, media to track, and stories to tell!
River Life in Video
Come Along for a Water Walk with Kare11 and River Life, and see Gifts at Work: The Mississippi River by the University of Minnesota Foundation
Open Rivers: Rethinking the Mississippi
A joint project of River Life, the Institute for Advanced Study, and the University of Minnesota Libraries, Open Rivers is an interdisciplinary online journal that recognizes the Mississippi River as a space for timely and critical conversations about people, community, water, and place.