Two weeks ago, I was pleased and honored to present an address at the Henry Farnam Dinner, an annual event sponsored by a variety of Quad Cities Mississippi River advocates. Farnam was the president of the Rock Island Railroad in the mid-1850s, when the line reached the Mississippi at Rock Island IL, thereby becoming the first complete rail connection between the Atlantic and the Mississippi.
Dinner organizers asked me to talk about the Mississippi in 2054, 200 years after the rail connection and accompanying “Grand Excursion” focused attention on what was then known as the Great Northwest. Read more →
It may seem like magic to see a stream restored to its former glory, or something close to its former state. Fish return, clear ripples emerge where before there was just brown sludge before; the water is a place where you want to be again.
The Partnership for River Restoration and Science in the Upper Midwest (PRRSUM) is dedicated to sharing knowledge about precisely what tools work to make these transformations happen. Learn more at the PRRSUM web site.
This is not just a random post this morning: this week is the last week for submittal of poster abstracts and to register for the upcoming Stream Restoration Conference. The conference will be held in LaCrosse WI this year, February 24-27. Don’t miss out–lots of cutting-edge paper presentations, keynote talks by nationally-recognized experts, plus, my favorite, “Adjourn for dinner and drinks” sessions!
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 →
“Water Wars” is the term increasingly being used to describe conflicts over water around the world as well as across the United States. No longer just an issue for the arid West (although water shortages are a constant subject in the work of writers such as John Fleck of the Albuquerque Journal and the blog Inkstain) water disputes have come to the Southeast and other parts of what Wallace Stegner referred to as the “humid east.”
Water wars are even coming to Minnesota. Read more →
It’s been about a month now since Hurricane Sandy walloped (great word there—haven’t gotten to use it since I was a sportswriter as an undergraduate!) the New York City region and spread devastating impacts across most of the northeastern quarter of the United States. Immediate post-storm analysis touched on a number of topics important to our work, including climate change, water and cities, water infrastructure and resilience. Some of the more thoughtful reflections include:
Think “sustainability” and “resilience” mean the same thing? Then you should read this piece from The Atlantic Cities on how the important distinction between the terms comes to light in Sandy’s aftermath. Read more →
The bioregional mantra is “Think Globally, Act Locally.” The Mississippi River is both a local system and one of the largest river basins in the world, so we have to act in our own back yard as if we’re protecting our back yard and simultaneously making a difference at the broader scale.
This recent article from the Memphis Commercial Appeal touches on many of the most important elements of this “double vision”: the “9 Things You Can Do” is a great list, but getting out and knowing the river through kayaking, walking along it, and really seeing it is important also. Read more →
The Minnesota Senate is considering a bill that would redirect funding away from renewable energy broadly speaking and limit research to projects in renewable electricity (no more research on renewable transportation fuels, conservation, or energy efficiency). Learn more at this Action Alert.
What has this got to do with rivers and a sustainable Mississippi River? The energy/water nexus is in and of itself very powerful: one of the largest uses of water in Minnesota is cooling power plants, for example. Conservation and energy efficiency can reduce our reliance on these plants, thereby perhaps freeing water for other uses.
Furthermore, the mercury pollution that is part of the impairment of so many of Minnesota’s lakes and streams gets here as airborne pollution from upwind power plants. Again, better energy conservation standards will ultimately mean less mercury in the lakes and rivers and a big step toward the Clean Water Act’s goal of “swimmable, fishable waters” across the country.
As John Muir said (and I paraphrase) “when you take hold of any part of the world, you find that it’s connected to all the other parts.” Look again at the Action Alert and help preserve all aspects of renewable energy research in the state.
Here at the University of Minnesota, we’re charged with the responsibility to “think out ahead” of current events. So while you may not have heard much yet about efforts to connect water sustainability to a company’s bottom line, believe me: you will.
Why not get ahead of the news by attending a public lecture set for March 1 on the St. Paul campus of the U of M: Mindy Lubber, an international leader in efforts by investors to lead and pressure multinational companies to adopt environmentally sustainable business practices, will talk about her work to develop better business practices concerning water.
Lubber is president of Ceres, a 22-year-old Boston-based nonprofit that works with companies like Coca-Cola, Levi Strauss and IBM to encourage the firms to make their products and processes more water-efficient and less vulnerable to climate change.The lecture, “Investing in Sustainability: Building Water Stewardship Into the Bottom Line,” is sponsored by the Freshwater Society and the University of Minnesota College of Biological Sciences. It will be at 7 p.m. in the theater of the Student Center on the university’s St. Paul campus.
As part of that work, Lubber directs the Investor Network on Climate Risk, an alliance of 100 institutional investors who manage $10 trillion in assets. In 2011, she was voted one of “the 100 most influential people in corporate governance” by Directorship Magazine.
Lubber’s lecture will focus on the risks businesses and their shareholders face as a result of a population-driven demand for increased water use colliding with a fixed global supply, aggravated by more pronounced droughts and flooding resulting from climate change. She will offer specific examples of companies that are changing their business models to become more sustainable.
“From farms to power plants, mining to microprocessors, water is indispensable,” Lubber says. “But many in the private sector continue valuing water using outdated assumptions: It’s often seen as cheap, stable and uncontested when increasingly it’s none of those.”
Lubber, who earned a law degree and an MBA, founded the National Environmental Law Center in 1990, and she later launched the Green Century Capital Group, a mutual fund owned by nonprofit public interest organizations. She was one of the founders of Ceres, when it was started by a group of investors in response to the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill.
In 1998-2000, Lubber was deputy regional administrator, and later regional administrator, of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in New England. She became Ceres’ president in 2003
Lubber’s lecture is the seventh in the Moos Family Speaker Series on Water Resources honoring the late Malcolm Moos, president of the university from 1967 to 1974.
About the University of Minnesota College of Biological Sciences
The College of Biological Sciences provides education and conducts research in all areas of biology, from molecules to ecosystems, supporting applications in medicine, renewable energy, ecosystem management, agriculture and biotechnology. For more information about research and degree programs, go to www.cbs.umn.edu/
About the Freshwater Society
The Freshwater Society is a non-profit organization dedicated to educating and inspiring people to value, conserve and protect water resources. Located in Excelsior, Minn., adjacent to Lake Minnetonka, it has a long history of association with the University of Minnesota. Learn more at www.freshwater.org.
http://bit.ly/wY7E0K It was bound to happen, and as a “word guy” (English major, former journalist, teacher of writing since before I can remember) all I can say is “About time.”
“Sustainable” has become one of the most common buzzwords in academic and policy circles that attend to issues of food, water, cities, energy, and the like. But what does it really mean, how is it measured, who sets the definitions, etc., etc., etc. Too often, the word becomes an umbrella to describe whatever policy or action the writer likes and “unsustainable” is a club to attack with. Or else, the conversation becomes incredibly technical, intricate, and inaccessible.
But the piece that is linked at the front of this post offers a refreshing view: what is we changed “sustainable” to “regenerative”? Try it, see how the change of a simple word alters what and how you think about transportation, energy, or, for our subject, rivers.
Let me know what you come up with!
In last Friday’s Minneapolis Star Tribune, outdoors writer Dennis Anderson wrote about the deliberations of state granting agencies who are deciding the best way to attack the spread of Asian carp. The story is interesting and deserves to be read in its entirety, but I want to focus just on one element here: the money. Somehow these days it’s always about the money.
The Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council is charged with making recommendations on how to allocate a percentage of a sales tax increase that Minnesotans imposed on themselves by constitutional amendment in 2008. (For more detail, Google “Minnesota Legacy Amendment”). The LSOHC is deciding whether to up its present investment of $3 million to $5 million, in a nutshell.
But Anderson argues that reallhy doing the right thing to stop invasives from destroying Minnesota’s sport fishery would take a lot more money–he mentions $30 million for the first year and $20 million annually after that for five years. A big chunk of this funding might go to the University of Minnesota to create an invasive species research center, per an earlier story.
Let me be clear: I think the idea of an invasive species research center at the University of Minnesota is a wonderful, highly appropriate plan. The U is the state’s land-grant university and is charged with providing leadership to the citizens of the state in all kinds of ways. We (remember, I work there too) have the brainpower and the background to press forward on the scientific issues of invasive species control and eradication.
But, it’s not just about science. If, as many have suggested, locks on the Mississippi need to be closed as at least a stopgap measure to control the spread of carp, there are enormous, and widespread economic consequences that will follow such an action. Already the National Park Service has proposed a voluntary “no locking” policy for its educational program boat tours; landscape architects and planners should be involved in deciding alternative best places to land boats and connect people to the water without going through locks to existing boat launches. And what would the public think about the cost or potential inconvenience of changing the surface water regulations? Does the Mississippi River even matter that much to the public in the Twin Cities? We have a number of academic folks whose students would be able to help generate good insights on that question.
The point simply is this: while a scientific program is a great start in considering what to do with the threat of invasive species, and is a highly appropriate way for the University to become involved, there are a lot of other ways University talent can be of assistance as well.
I welcome your thoughts, both on the issues posed by invasive species, and on strategies to address them and what role we at the University can play. We’re a world class university on a world class river: we should be a robust source of solutions.