Suppose for a minute that you knew there was a mortal threat to your livelihood, if not your life, encroaching street by street, block by block, coming inexorably toward you. You don’t know where the threat is right now, but you know it’s out there somewhere.
- Work with neighbors to create a deterrent fence or some other protective structure on your block.
- Put up your deterrent structure on your property, because, after all, the neighbors aren’t that easy to work with and some of them don’t think this is much of a threat anyway.
- Reinforce your front door, but leave your front yard unguarded, because, really, your yard is a pretty cool place, but the real safety and value is in your house.
- Don’t worry about your yard or house, but reinforce your bedroom door, figuring that any money spent defending yourself prior to your “last stand” is money wasted.
If the mortal threat in this little scenario is the Asian carps that are coming up the Mississippi River, voraciously outcompeting local native fish (like walleyes) for food and wrecking the ecosystem, to say nothing of their You Tube-documented habit of jumping into the air when alarmed, then it appears the State of Minnesota may have chosen Option 4 above. Sure, the DNR is putting money into studies of the state’s “front yard” waters, and thinking about drawing the line against carp in the Twin Cities. But as this article from the Minneapolis Star Tribune makes clear, the money actually being spent on deterrance is north of the city, at the Coon Rapids Dam. The Coon Rapids Dam may be the “last defense” against the invasive fish before they get upstream into northern Minnesota, potentially threatening a state fishery and tourism industry that has been estimated at between $7 and $11 billion in annual value.
So why are we only reinforcing the last line of defense? Long time observers of the Coon Rapids Dam controversy might argue that this whole thing started years ago, when local agencies debated who would pay to upgrade and maintain the deteriorating century-old structure. Local park districts didn’t want to invest in it. Why not take the dam down and let the river run free? Well, a couple of hundred homeowners who have property stretching a few miles upriver would then have mud flats for their front yard, instead of an impounded, lake-like Mississippi River, provided for them by taxpayers across the state of Minnesota.
So we have $16 million being invested in the 100 year old dam, with Asian carps used as the rationale for preserving the dam and the amenity of the lake.
We ought to be able to do better than this.
An article by Doug Smith in Sunday’s Minneapolis Star-Tribune discusses the increasing complexity of some of the problems that concern the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. It’s not enough any more just to try to figure out of to provide enough walleyes for all the fishermen in the state. Instead, land use change and habitat loss, overuse of water resources (see Josephine Marcotty’s fine article sounding the alarm on diminished water in the state), pending climate change, all are issues that require new, more complex thinking and awareness of the state’s interconnected resource systems. Read more →
It’s pretty well known that the Mississippi River in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area is polluted (“impaired” is the technical term) with sediment, excess nutrients, and, most likely, other bad stuff. This week there has been a flurry of attention to one of the components of that “other bad stuff” category. Read more →
Last week was a busy time, both on the Mississippi River itself and in the various places where river-oriented science, policy, and community engagement take place. As is our usual practice, we follow Mark Gorman of the Northeast-Midwest Institute for connections to conversations we want to “listen in on.” Here are some of the links posted @NEMWIUpperMiss: Read more →
Most of the e-chatter on the Mississippi River these days is about dropping water levels and threats to navigation. But last week the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources made an important announcement concerning efforts to stymie the encroachment of Asian carp up the river. As reported here and elsewhere, the DNR is recommending that a sound-and-light barrier be constructed at Lock and Dam #1 (Ford Dam) between Minneapolis and St. Paul. The barrier would not be 100% effective (nothing except permanently closing the lock would be 100% effective) but it would be comparable to the electric barriers now in place on the Chicago Sanitary and Ship canal. DNR officials expect that the Army Corps of Engineers, which owns and manages the lock, would be very reluctant to allow the electronic barrier, if they did not prohibit it outright.
The Army Corps of Engineers is not used to being in the position of “good guys,” but their comments in this Washington Post article appear to be the reasonable ones in the dispute.
No one disputes that the Mississippi River’s water level is dropping due to the historic drought that is gripping the middle of the continent. Shipping industry organizations, though, argue that the response should be to do whatever is necessary, and spend whatever money is available, to ensure that the river is the “deepest, safest channel” for moving goods.
The Corps agrees, but only to a point, mindful that it has a mandate to try to manage the Mississippi and the system of rivers that feed it, for multiple uses.
I’ve written elsewhere about this business of seeing the Mississippi as a system for humans to manage, so I won’t go there now. Suffice it to say, it will be an interesting few weeks as the river continues to drop.
We all know the maxim “A picture is worth a thousand words. The eight photos shown in this sequence aren’t quite enough to match the tens of thousands of words being spilled about the Mississippi River’s declining water levels and the threat (or not) to commerce, but they’re a start.
But you should look a little closer at these photos. What do you see? A lot of barges concentrated in some areas; ok, that’s fine, to be expected when the river’s depths are variable. Photo #6 shows a lot more though. There’s a massive quarry, or maybe open pit mine, adjacent to the river, separated only by a levee that looks like it might double as a service road. Read more →
I’ve been in this business long enough to remember when folks interested in the Mississippi River could really gather in a not-so-big room and talk together about the work we were doing to connect the river better to our communities and our lives. The discussions crossed interest groups and sectors, included representatives from various levels of government, and often resulted in small groups or clusters breaking away to focus on getting work done on the ground.
So for me, last week marked something of a milestone: four highly distinctive, yet connected, meetings within a seven day span, all concerning the Mississippi River directly or indirectly, and with almost no overlap of participants. The rundown: Read more →
On September 27, the National Park Service Mississippi National River and the Friends of the Mississippi advocacy group released a State of the River report, assessing water quality on the stretch of the Mississippi running through the Minneapolis-St. Paul metropolitan area. This report, which evaluates 13 indicators of river health, is the most comprehensive and accessible treatment of this kind in a very long time.
There are many reasons why this is an important report: Read more →
Mud, or more properly known as “soil,” is one of the most critical, poorly-understood substances in the river world. (Technical aside: I know enough from talking with soil scientists not to say “dirt.” But I don’t know if “mud” is technically acceptable, what the differences are between soils and sediments, etc. But I think today’s story works without the technical specifics)
If you live in places like the Mississippi River Delta you know the importance of mud. Mud from the Mississippi–former bits of Iowa, Minnesota, Illinois, etc.–made the delta landscape. For the past few decades, unfortunately, that process has been limited, as the river has been choked by dams and channeled by levees to the point where vast quantities of mud are sent shooting out into the Gulf of Mexico. The famous “dead zone” is largely a product of nutrients that are carried along with these sediments.
University of Minnesota Professor of Geology and Geophysics Chris Paola can tell these stories. But he also has another goal: for his audiences to recognize that places such as the Mississippi Delta are beautiful and inherently interesting. When he spoke at the University a couple of weeks ago, he urged “a little more respect for mud.”
Respect is in order. According to Paola, whose work has taken him to delta complexes around the world, the wetlands in deltas support hundreds of millions of people through their utilization for agriculture, for aquaculture, as ports, as sources for oil and gas resources. In the United States, 40% of the country’s wetlands are in the Mississippi River delta complex.
As noted above, these wetlands are disappearing, at an alarming rate. With the notable exception of the Wax lake delta, where land growth has made observable gains in the past four decades, most of coastal Louisiana is eroding and subsiding. The State of Louisiana has recently adopted a long term Coastal Protection and Restoration Plan, and there is hope that corrective actions will start having a measurable impact quickly.
Paola did not directly address specifics from this plan at his talk, but he did offer insights on “how to live with a living delta:
- be soft–utilize less hardscape such as concrete, make structures more compact on the land, use mobile features where possible;
- feed the wetlands–allow sediment back into the wetlands in carefully chosen spots and areas where there will be ecological as well as geological benefits
- leave the low ground to nature–not places for towns, marinas, and the like
Here is a link to Paola’s talk, which is a powerful reminder to those of us up at the upstream end of the Mississippi River how important our actions are to people, lands, and waters at the river’s mouth.