Maybe it’s just me, but as water seems to be a subject of increasing concern, and the complexity of the subjects associated with “water” grows, there’s is a real need for sources of good information.
The USGS has just taken a major step toward meeting that need with the publication of a fact sheet that amounts to a digest of web sites that the agency maintains containing a wealth of water data. I’m not a scientist, so I fear some (most?) of this information will be completely over my head. Nevertheless, it will be good to have some starting points for my own work, and to offer students as they begin their inquiries for class and projects. Plus, as we continue to explore ways to bring together disparate thinkers such as scientists and artists, engineers and storytellers, sources like these fact sheets can help establish some basic common language and understandings for us all.
For those of us who work in “higher” education, this is exam time, followed by a winter break. Classes will start in late January here at the University of Minnesota; other schools are on different calendars. This post will be my last “River Talk” blog post for 2013; look for the series to start back up the second week of January, hopefully with some long-planned changes incorporated. Nothing major, just tweaks to increase connectivity and try to spark up more comments and responses.
The Minneapolis Star Tribune reported recently that the numbers of agricultural education teachers in Minnesota is shrinking, while the need grows. This trend should surprise no one: Minnesota’s population is increasingly urban, and farm consolidation is meaning fewer and fewer people make a living through farming.
And it should be just as evident that the need to learn about agriculture has really never been greater. For a variety of reasons far beyond this post, we may be nearing the end of the days when we don’t have to think about how food gets on our plate.
A faculty member at the University of Minnesota is quoted that ag education itself is changing, that it’s not “plows, cows, and sows” any more.
What, then, what should agricultural education for the 21st century in the Midwest look like? I suggest three topics, to complement the previously mentioned references to row crops and livestock. Farmers will continue to have to know about crops and stock, of course, but in addition, they will have to know about water, about communication, and about the planet.
With a minute fraction of the country actively engaged in farming, and a slightly larger number engaged in food processing and production, it is imperative that farmers know how to tell their story. And I emphatically do NOT mean letting farm chemical producers, or commodity associations, or grain companies or seed companies tell it for them!
Farming produces for a global market, often in competition with growers across the world. The impacts of farming are felt both locally and globally, and the challenge of feeding a global population will affect every farmer in the country. It’s not enough just to know your own backyard, or your watershed.
Speaking of watersheds, it may be only a slight exaggeration to say that the most important material coming off a farm is the water that drains the fields. Better water management is an essential part of contemporary agricultural practices. If wise management of the Mississippi River is largely a matter of managing the water flowing into the river and its tributaries, then farmers have to be part of that management solution. But they have to know as much about water, and care as much about clean water, as their river conservation partners (now too often arrayed as combatants).
Yes, there likely are too few ag ed teachers, in large part because there are fewer young people with ag ed in their background. Maybe if some of these other subjects are seen as essential to future ag learning, then more folks can be enticed to participate, whatever their background. Worth thinking about, anyway.
We, the officers, would love to let you know a bit about ourselves! We’re students whose studies span the University, and we’d love for you to get involved as officers for River Rangers too! Hopefully, by reading our profiles, other students will see where they might fit in the future!
Reba’s love for the Mississippi River began as a middle school student at a Science Museum of Minnesota camp about the Mississippi. Upon coming to the U of M, she knew she had to get involved with the River right away and joined River Rangers and enrolled in a class about the River right away. The professor, Pat Nunnally, just happened to be the staff advisor to River Rangers, and he got Reba even more involved, asking her to act as treasurer during her sophomore year. Junior year led her to take over in the President role, where she is enthusiastic about growing the club and sharing the Mississippi River with everyone on campus.
Outside of RIver Rangers, Reba is an honors student studying both Plant Biology and Religious Studies. Currently, she is working on research on improving biology labs for non-majors using hydroponic plants. In the past, she has done research on an organic hydroponic salad table, the bacteria of the Headwaters of the Mississippi, plant diversity at Cedar Creek Ecosystem Science Reserve LTER, and Irish potatoes in Cork, IE. She also likes to volunteer her time to teach science and other subjects to younger students and give tours of the U of M. When Reba graduates, she hopes to continue studying plant ecology in graduate school, focusing on moss ecology or urban plant communities.
Since seeing the beautiful view of the river out of her dorm room window for the first time, Liz has felt attached to the Mississippi River. She loves living next to the river because it offers the opportunity to briefly escape from the urban setting and there’s always something new to explore.
Liz was first introduced to the organization River Rangers through her roommate, Reba, the current President of River Rangers. She became committed to the organization due to its inspiring dedication to promoting awareness of the river and the opportunities for recreation. The group also introduced her to a possible new career path- working for the National Park Service.
Liz is currently a junior in the honors program, studying Bioproducts and Biosystems Engineering with an Emphasis in Environmental and Ecological Engineering. She is also pursuing a minor in Sustainability Studies. She is currently working as an intern for Environment America. She will soon start an internship studying ecosystem services along side the National Park Service as part of the University of Minnesota’s River Life Program. She also plans on researching wastewater pollution with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. Besides being the Vice President of River Rangers, Liz is the Vice President of the Headwaters Ecology Club and is involved in many other environmental student organizations. Her career goal is to have a job which allows her to spend time in nature while increasing environmental awareness and sustainability.
Ellen is an Environmental Science, Policy and Management senior focusing on Environmental Education at the University of Minnesota. Upon graduation in the Spring of 2014, she hopes to work as an Interpretive Park Ranger with the National Park Service. She is originally from Duluth, MN and loves being out on the water in any kind of boat, canoe or kayak! Ellen also enjoys camping, hiking and exploring in Minnesota State Parks with friends. Through River Rangers, she hopes to work with other students to learn about the Mississippi River through a variety of service, recreational and career building events.
Hailing from Wisconsin, John’s love for the outdoors was ignited early through routine camping trips with his family and growing up in rural environments. It is only natural to him that he now finds himself studying Environmental Science, Policy, and Management with a concentration in environmental science here at the U. He became involved with River Rangers last year, his sophomore year, because the club appealed to his love for the environment and outdoor exploration. His interests within environmental science are forest resources, hydrology, and climatology. John would like to further his education within the natural sciences such that he can work as a member of a research team, preferably studying climate change and its effects.
Those of us who think about water for a living can pretty easily find ourselves lamenting the lack of interest or insight from “everybody else” who doesn’t “get it.” (Whatever “it” is, whether it’s the importance of a particular river, the value of wetlands, the necessity of understanding urban stormwater, etc.) At least here in the Upper Midwest, we don’t live in a very “hydroliterate” society, at least not yet.
Earlier this month, I was a bit taken aback, then, by a stream of information and links from the US EPA on the importance of water to the US economy. As is the case for most of us with water, the economy is mostly “just there,” notable when it’s going too fast or too slow, just like we only notice water in floods or drought.
But the EPA has a large body of important information, starting with a report spelling out the importance of clean water to our economy. Once again, it’s always salutary to spell out in detail what we think “everybody knows.”
Accompanying the report, the agency released a statement from Nancy Stoner, the Acting Assistant Administrator in charge of the Office of Water. The agency has also published a good primer on the effects of climate change on water resources.
This is a short work week for many of us, so between spending time with family, shopping, eating and watching football, there should be plenty of time to read up on all of this vital information.
Yes, this will be on the final!
A recent blog post on rulemaking for the Mississippi River corridor through the Twin Cities generated some comments, both to the blog itself, and to the Facebook notice of the blog post. This is great; one of the important functions of the River Talk blog is to inspire discussions.
These comments raised for me the question: Who knows the River best? Arguments that one or another group has “undue influence” or “knows the river best because…” are vital because the Mississippi needs all of the concerned citizens we can rally to it. But I have to add, when I see that a group “speaks for the River,” I just have to ask: “How did the River ask you to speak for it?”
To take another perspective, a scientist friend of mine recently told a group we were meeting with “The Mississippi River doesn’t have a crisis. It simply is; it’s us who is having a crisis about the Mississippi.”
Well now. That’s not a perspective I hear every day, though it may well be true. (How would you ask the Mississippi how it feels? Some people do believe the river is a sentient being.)
The basis for claims to know the river are pretty interesting. Do we know the river best when we:
- spend a lot of time on the water, and know it through long experience boating?
- study its hydrology and understand the variations in its flows?
- know the life cycles and connectivities among the animals and plants that live on, in, and beside it?
- spend our careers studying it, protecting it through regulatory and political/legal actions and advocacy work?
Seems to me that “all of the above, plus more” might be the best answer.
If that’s too wishy-washy, as it legitimately could be to many, then I will offer this: it depends on the context where knowledge is needed. In the context spoken of in the earlier blog post, processes whereby communities and other organizations establish development rules for the cities along the river in this part of the world, I would suggest that scientific and urban design knowledge would be vital, and that we need both local points of view that see the river as an economic force in a local community and a bigger perspective that understands the river as a national and internationally significant landscape.
At that point, we need to fall back to a process that ensures sides are heard and feel that they have been taken seriously. Should a local community act completely in its own self interest, and thereby perhaps harming the great commons that is the river? Multiple perspectives need to be heard.
Once again, then, it seems that we need to have strong community expression that is clear, yet subtle and significant, which informs governance structures that are fair. Both should be informed by solid science where appropriate.
That won’t solve controversy, which is as much about local circumstance as anything else, often enough. But it’s not my hope to solve controversy, but to stimulate more, and better discussion.
As before, comments welcomed! Guest posts are also available–get in touch with me at email@example.com to talk about how to set one up.
In the day to day drone of class after project after exam, sometimes it’s easy for me to forget why exactly I come to school every day and what great ideas I dream of accomplishing on occasion. I find that attending events on campus where I get to hear amazing writers, thinkers, musicians, and doers talk about their ideas is the perfect antidote to this habituation. It reminds me what a wonderful opportunity attending a nationally ranked research university in a major metropolitan area within a national park affords me.
One particular opportunity has been meeting Dave Wiggins.
Dave, a park ranger in the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area, definitely falls into the doer category (though dreamer might be be appropriate too). Hearing him talk about the projects he has worked on while employed by the NPS makes me want to have his job (a common theme at these talks by campus visitors). Luckily for me, part of his discussion included just that—ideas about ways to get into the National Park Service.
Following the government shutdown last month, Liz thought it would be interesting to get the perspective of someone on the inside. In all actuality, Dave didn’t have much to say on the matter other than he missed his job while he wasn’t allowed to work, and the vacation was nice because he has a never-ending pile of things to do as a ranger. Mostly, he used the shutdown as a jumping-off-point to talk about the future of that NPS. Between the overall low cost of National Parks compared to other parts of the federal budget, an upcoming centennial of the Parks, and a large wave of retiring rangers in the near future, Dave painted a pretty optimistic picture of job prospects for aspiring rangers.
My favorite question (well, answer really) of the evening was, “what is a typical day as a park ranger?” Dave’s answer, in a nutshell, was that a typical day doesn’t exist, but he didn’t say that until the end of his answer. In the meantime, he shared with us the numerous different kinds of things he does over the course of a day, week, or year. One of his current favorite projects is clearly building forts with fifth grade students, but he generally likes to plan all kinds of long term, large scale, idealistic projects. Again, this thinking up ideas and actually being able to make them happen is where his job sounds like one of the best on earth.
Dave also shared with us his path to becoming a ranger and how we might do the same. As an undergraduate at the U of M a…few…years ago, he started out as a medical school hopeful. Instead, he decided to look for a job where people were happy, less stressed, and didn’t need expensive calculators and landed at the Minnesota Historical Society when he graduated. After working there for years, he jumped into the park service where he now works with a river his family has lived near for generations. While touting the job security and pensions benefits that come with a job in the NPS, Dave suggested working our way up in related jobs and jumping into being a park ranger like he did might be a good strategy. Jumping between parks, especially smaller, more remote ones, was also a suggested strategy.
As someone who doesn’t particularly expect myself to be a park ranger in the future, I have to admit, my favorite part of talking to Dave Wiggins came at the end of the evening. We mentioned to him that we have been thinking about doing some kind of native planting along the river near campus, and he immediately came up with names of people who could help us do that. He also dreamt the project up a little bit bigger while he was at it. I’m very excited about the prospect of getting our project off the ground and getting to work with Dave in the future.
I hope you enjoyed my enthusiastic summary of Dave Wiggins’ visit with River Rangers! More than that, I hope it inspires you to get out and join us at River Rangers event in the future or some other talk or performance on campus. The daily routine of work and/or school can get monotonous, but there’s nothing like hearing someone completely enthusiastic about what they do with their life to remind you that you could be just as engrossed and enthusiastic someday too!
A week ago yesterday was Election Day, which I personally barely noticed because I had not been inundated with television ads telling me that [whoever the ad's opponent is] threatens the very basis of democracy as we know it. For once, we weren’t being told that this election is The Most Important Election in Our Lifetime.
The lack of attention to this year’s election should not let us overlook the truly remarkable election results in Minnesota five years ago. In 2008, Minnesotans voted to raise taxes on themselves to provide a steady 25 year source of funds to improve water quality, enhance parks, recreation, trails, and wildlife habitat, and support arts and cultural heritage work.
This remarkable achievement, known in shorthand as the “Legacy Amendment,” has allowed government agencies concerned with water quality to take a longer view in addressing the state’s needs, rather than only being able to respond to crises after they occur. The first step was to develop a Water Sustainability Framework to identify key challenges, define the most urgent research, governance and planning needs to meet those challenges, and to serve as a guide for ongoing investment.
The work is bearing fruit. Last week, in recognition of this five year anniversary, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency released a press statement describing some of the more innovative and visible long term efforts to enhance water quality in certain parts of the state. These include:
- more detailed water quality monitoring at a watershed scale, rather than just along individual sections of selected streams;
- a long term program of restoration and cleanup in the St. Louis River, near Duluth;
- continued detailed attention to the ongoing efforts to clean up the Minnesota River.
The Minnesota River is one of the largest single sources of the nutrients that make up the “Dead Zone” in the Gulf of Mexico. The St. Louis River, which empties into Lake Superior, has suffered extensive damage from industrial uses for the past 130 years. It is fair to say, then, that the Clean Water Legacy Amendment is having an important effect at the national scale and is working to reverse better than a century of degradation.
Maybe the 2008 election, at least in Minnesota, really WAS The Most Important Election in Our Lifetime!
Of course, anyone who has thought about this for more than about a minute and a half would realize that a river the size of the Mississippi makes its own rules. As my friend Karen Campbell used to say “Even dams are really just long term experiments on rivers.”
Nevertheless we are humans, so we have to try to impose our will on natural systems, and the Mississippi is no exception. It serves us well; we serve it much less well. In the metropolitan Twin Cities region, efforts to align the goals of a population now numbering about 3 million with the living system of the Mississippi really began in the 1970s, although there were some notable urban design efforts before then. The 1970s saw the establishment of the Mississippi River corridor in the Twin Cities as the state’s first “Critical Area,” which set in motion all kinds of activity that continues to this day.
I’ll try to keep this short, I promise. In the United States, land use decisions are typically managed at the local level. Matters such as community planning, zoning, and related special studies are done by cities such as Minneapolis and St. Paul, or counties rather than by states, for the most part.
In the 1970s, the State of Minnesota recognized that the Mississippi River, a regional landscape with statewide, even national and international, significance, was being altered by locally-based zoning and planning decisions. A community might allow a tall apartment building to be constructed along the river corridor, which made for great views, high value apartments, and a good addition to the tax base, but was a visual intrusion. Or another community might allow development to take place right up to the shoreline, thereby ensuring that lawns would get established at the river edge, with damaging impacts on water quality.
The details of how cities administer the river corridor under their planning and zoning purview are worked out through state administrative rules. After a disastrous effort a couple of years ago to revise these rules, the state Department of Natural Resources is trying again, this time with an approach that is much more responsive to local governments. Local governments appear to be responding well to the new process; when you read this article closely, you’ll see lots of language to the effect that local government control is better than “having the state tell us what to do.”
But there lies the rub: as a landscape corridor of statewide and now designated national significance (this stretch of the Mississippi was added to the National Park System in 1988) there must be a strong role for government above the local level and for advocacy groups and other interested parties of all kinds. If local governments can do with the Mississippi River corridor what they please, then it won’t be long before this mythic river looks like every other ignored, mistreated urban river.
Yes, I am that pessimistic. I would love to be persuaded otherwise though, and welcome the discussion about appropriate balance of governance authority on such a world-class landscape as the Mississippi River. This is difficult stuff, and I don’t have an answer ready at hand, so am hoping to hear from you, through comments on the blog, tweets to @RiverLifeUMN, on Facebook, or all three.
It is now November (actually, like an entire week into November…), and I am seeing snow and cold join me on my daily trek to campus. River Rangers is, understandably, moving inside with many of our plans over the next couple months, but don’t fear, we’ll be out battling (okay, thoroughly enjoying) the chill soon enough.
During last month’s meeting, we decided that we would like to get the word out about how awesome the Mississippi River is to everyone (or as many people as possible) on campus. We’d like to do this by presenting some of the information we know about the river to classes, student groups, and the passing student throughout the next year. Currently, we’re working on an awesome presentation to share with all of these awesome people. If you know of a group who would like to hear what we have to offer, let us know!
On Monday (Nov 11), we’re having our monthly River RangersMeeting in STSS 119 at 6:30pm. Lucky for me, I won’t be doing all of the talking this time! Instead Dave Wiggins, a ranger in the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area will be joining us to talk about all things government shutdown, future of the park service, and NPS jobs. If you’ve never met Dave, be assured, he comes packed with interesting antidotes and more Mississippi River knowledge than in any other single place (only a slight exaggeration).
We are also moving forward with two really exciting spring events we’d like everyone to know about and attend. First, we’re going to be going on a winter (cabin) camping trip to Itasca State Park again this year—Friday, February 7(in the evening) to February 9. Secondly, we’re putting together an Earth Day event for April 26 that will get students involved with the river! We’d love for both you and your student group to get involved in this event of both service and fun.
So, I ask of you three things:
1) Join us for what is sure to be an exciting meeting on Monday for both useful information and an interesting time.
2) Sign up for the winter (cabin) camping adventure to Itasca. The sooner you sign up, the more likely we’ll have room for you to come! (Do so by emailing me!)
3) Let me know if you have any ideas or questions! On Twitter:@RiverRangersUMN On Facebook:River Rangers (University of Minnesota) or email me: firstname.lastname@example.org
Thank you, and enjoy your weekend
“Sip of Science” is a really outstanding program (I’m resisting use of my student’s favorite adjective “awesome” but it is) that makes interesting and important science accessible to the public. The good folks at the National Center for Earth Surface Dynamics put the programs on, which are held at the Aster Cafe, located on SE Main Street in Minneapolis “the prettiest street in Minneapolis.”
The November 13 “Sip” features Dr. Karen Gran from the University of Minnesota-Duluth speaking about “Duluth Stream Geomorphology and the Solstice Flood of 2012.” Program is at 5:30.
A SIP OF SCIENCE – the 2nd Wednesday of every month
Duluth Stream Geomorphology and the Solstice Flood of 2012
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.
November 13th Event
Roads and retaining walls collapsed. Cars were sucked into giant sinkholes. A seal escaped the local zoo and were found in traffic. In June 2012, the Duluth area experienced widespread flash flooding, amounting to a 500-year flood event. The floodwaters caused severe damage to infrastructure, stream banks eroded, bluffs failed, and massive quantities of large woody debris swept downstream. How did this happen? With the November Sip of Science, Dr. Karen Gran will cover some background on streams in the Duluth-area, how the geomorphology of these streams can affect their response to floods, and provide some perspective on how the floods have impacted the streams in the Duluth area.
The talk takes place during happy hour at the Aster Cafe || Food and Drink Available for Purchase
ABOUT THIS MONTH’S SPEAKER
Dr. Karen Gran is an Associate Professor in the Department of Geological Sciences at the University of Minnesota Duluth. She got her Ph.D. from the University of Washington, M.S. from the University of Minnesota, and B.A. from Carleton College. Her research focuses on river geomorphology, including how channels evolve under changing conditions, from volcanic eruptions to land use changes.
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.
Get more information at: http://www.nced.umn.edu/