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"That’s Future Mississippi River!"

It has rained--a lot--throughout most of the Mississippi River basin this spring.  In St. Paul, the Mississippi was in flood stage for 42 days, a record. At the other end of the river, in Louisiana, the Morganza Spillway will be opened to drain excessive floodwaters for only the third time ever.  The river is high in New Orleans, causing concerns about what might happen if a tropical storm comes soon. The title of this post comes from what a former colleague said and he and I dashed through a summer thunderstorm some years ago.  The downpour was, indeed, “future Mississippi River,” as was the nearly 2 inches of rain that fell in the Twin Cities on Memorial Day.

The Past(s) and Future(s) of River-Adjacent Communities

In the Twin Cities, there is always a touch of nostalgia about river-adjacent communities such as the Bohemian Flats in Minneapolis, or the Little Italy community on St. Paul’s Upper Levee.  Now that the river is much cleaner than it was a century ago, and water levels are regulated through a series of locks and dams, it is fairly easy to romanticize riverside life. In fact, many people have moved into new residential developments along the Mississippi River, in some cases living where earlier generations were flooded out decades ago. Other spaces have become parks, as both Minneapolis and St. Paul have devoted considerable funding and energy to creating public access to the Mississippi.

Mapping the “Retreat of the Industrial Glacier”

The urban designer Ken Greenberg has written about the “retreat of the industrial glacier” as a figure of speech describing the availability of land in cities that was formerly taken up by now-obsolete industrial or transportation uses.  In Minneapolis and St. Paul, the central riverfronts of both cities fit this description: Minneapolis’ mills no longer produce more flour than anywhere else in the world, and St. Paul’s riverfront is no longer a hub of shipping. But what have those spaces become?  This storymap, created by River Life staff, offers snapshot images of the Twin Cities through maps and aerial photographs from 1895, 1969, and 2018, as well as offering other contextual information.

Knowing a River’s Past as a Way to See its Futures: The Schuylkill River Corps

Here at River Life, we think a lot about what a university like ours should do to be a good citizen of our place.  The campus at the University of Minnesota is on Dakota land; that is a responsibility we must take seriously. We are in a national park, on one of the world’s great rivers, and should take that fact of location seriously also. In Philadelphia the Penn Program in Environmental Humanities, in collaboration with the Drexel Air Resources Research Laboratory and a host of nonacademic partners, has developed an exemplary set of projects that demonstrate responsibility to a sense of place on an urban river.  The Schuylkill River and Urban Waters Research Corps is a digital collection that examines the past, present, and some imagined futures of the urban river that passes Penn’s campus. A “public, cooperative research collective,” the program breaks down many of the siloes between campus and community, and between academic and professional disciplines on a large campus.

Issue Twelve of Open Rivers: Watery Places & Archaeology

A year or so ago, when I met with Amélie Allard about her work on the fur trade in Minnesota, I was interested generally in her observations about that contested, fraught place and time. When she mentioned that participants understood space from the perspective of rivers and water, rather than land, I was hooked, and asked her to think about editing an issue of Open Rivers. This issue is the result, and her guest editor’s introduction speaks more eloquently than I could to the themes and questions raised here. So, read her introduction, and then the other pieces in this issue. You may never think about the lakes region of Minnesota and Canada in exactly the same way again.

Speaking of reading that rearranges one’s perspective, I highly commend Lark Weller’s discussion of Ta- Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me. When I have told people that this piece was in the works, some have asked why a journal on water would address a title that is this central to contemporary debates on race in America. My response: why wouldn’t we?...

Blog Tips from the Hydrosphere

There are lots of reasons for academic professionals to blog, probably as many as there are academics blogging.  One of the blogs that regularly informs our work is “Watershed Moments: Thoughts from the Hydrosphere,” written by Dr. Sarah Boon, who blogs and tweets as “SnowHydro.”  Academically, her background is in the hydroecology of cold regions.  Much of her recent writing, both on the blog and in a variety of other publications, takes up issues of scientific communication, editing, creative nonfiction, and the landscapes and environmental issues of western Canada.  Her ideas and topics are wide-ranging, and always worth a look.

Boon’s recent post “9 Tips to Increase Traffic to Your Blog” really caught my attention since I, obviously, am in a somewhat similar position, i.e. using a blog as a platform to address a broad range of issues that I think are important.  All writers want at least some readers, and Boon’s tips are valuable whether you are new to blogging, a veteran with hundreds of posts, whether your work is primarily academic or in another sector...

All That We Are Is Story

On Thursday October 25, the IAS Thursdays program was “All That We Are Is Story,” highlighting the connections between water, story, language, place, and community.  A part of the broader We Are Water MN conversation at the University of Minnesota, the program centered the work of indigenous scholars and researchers, speaking in response to the short video that gave the program its name...The program’s richness means that it’s difficult to formulate a single thesis, or argument/theme from it.  Nevertheless, some observations and reflections are possible.

Panelists spoke of the importance of story, and of the multiple kinds of story that make up a world.  There are everyday stories people tell each other in the course of regular encounters, but there are also the deeper, foundational stories that make up the ways we know the world.  Those stories aren’t told lightly, are not varied, and serve as a primary means of carrying cultural wisdom down through centuries and millennia.

Minnesota Water Futures and Absented Narratives

In Minnesota, there is a growing awareness among most water professionals that water problems won’t be solved in the future simply through better science or engineering.  In many cases, specialists argue, the science is pretty clear in terms of what is polluting the state’s waters and what factors affect water availability. 

What is not so clear is how to achieve the necessary public support for the responses that are needed to water stress.  Whether we’re talking about a changing climate, increasing pollution from new sources, or aging infrastructure, the costs to address Minnesota’s water future number in the billions of dollars. 

We Are Water, Indeed : On the We Are Water MN Opening at the Institute on the Environment

There has always been a nice play on words within the We Are Water MN project—we are, in fact, largely water, as many people learn in biology class at some point.  But we are also, in important respects, the sum of our engagements with water.  Nearly everyone has a “water story,” or is attached to a particular body of water that is part of their core sense of themselves. The traveling exhibit We Are Water MN opened last Friday in the public space at the Institute on the Environment, and it is truly a landmark work. 

River Walks, We Are Water, and the University

One of the nice things about working on a campus that overlooks the Mississippi River is that it’s a very short walk to an overlook where the river is visible.  In our case, the whole trek to an overlook is about 100 yards, a block or so.  From there, it’s possible to walk either upstream or downstream (right or left) for changing river vistas, overlooks, or descents onto the flats at the water’s edge. We have used this location frequently over the years as a space from which to initiate programs, class trips, and the like.