July-August River News
Excerpts and Links to more information
Hunters and biologists both wonder what’s happening to the little duck called the scaup, more poetically called the bluebill. It’s been on the decline since the late 1970s, and last year its numbers sank to an all-time low.
All the usual culprits have been investigated: contamination, habitat changes and climate change. Suspicion has now focussed on another possibility: The birds are arriving on their nesting grounds in poor physical condition because they don’t get enough of the right food to eat on their long migration. Their success in mating, nesting and raising young in the far North depends on getting off to a good, fast start.
Researchers gathered in Keokuk, Iowa, this spring to start a new study on Pool 19 — the pool that hosts more diving ducks than any other place in the nation. They surgically implanted 17 female scaup with satellite transmitters that will broadcast information about the birds’ location each day. They want to discover what route the birds follow across the prairies of Canada to the boreal forests of Manitoba, where they spend the summer. The transmitters should broadcast for two years.
“Understanding how the birds migrate in the spring and what habitats they are using are the key to understanding if poor food conditions may be contributing to their decline,” said Jeff Lawrence of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.
To follow the ducks online, learn more about scaup and the study, and even listen to the birds’ call, go to the Ducks Unlimited website and search for “scaup study.”
St. Paul — When Ford Motor Company closes its truck factory at the end of 2008, its power turbines on the banks of the Mississippi River will keep right on spinning.
The hydropower plant, at Lock and Dam 1 in St. Paul, was purchased by a Canadian firm that will keep the plant up and running. The dam has supplied the Ford factory with power for 82 years, and is capable of generating 18 megawatts. Some city officials and plant workers pitched to see the power plant sold along with the manufacturing facility. Instead, Brookfield agreed to sell 5 megawatts of power, about 28 percent of its capacity, back to new owners of the factory, which had not been sold as of June.
Just upstream from the Ford plant, SAF Hydroelectric LLC, which is majority-owned by Brookfield, is building a new hydropower plant on the Lower St. Anthony Falls dam. This 10-megawatt plant is scheduled to start operating by 2008.
Brookfield operates 140 hydro power plants on 50 rivers in North and South America.
(Minneapolis Star Tribune, 5-31-07, Mpls/St. Paul Business Journal, 6-1-07)
Save the Delta
New Orleans, La. — The Louisiana legislature is considering a new $50-billion project to reshape the Mississippi River delta, so floodwaters escape more quickly and less land is lost to erosion. Due to its soft and sinking soil, Louisiana loses about 24 square miles of land per year, most of it along coastal areas, because the leveed river no longer brings sediment to build them up.
The project is one of many that arose after hurricanes Katrina and Rita, but it addresses old problems. It calls for letting the river loose at more than a dozen places, creating seven new, smaller channels to the sea. Three would carry sediment into the coastal areas, which have been eroding rapidly. Another part of the plan would pump sediment from some areas and send it through pipelines to rebuild marshes and islands along the coast. The plan also calls for hundreds of miles of new and reconstructed levees to protect local people from floods.
According to the Washington Post (5-1-07), the plan has evoked much support and no real opposition, although fishermen and the ocean-going shipping industry have not commented yet.
The location and number of the levees is likely to provoke debate. People whose property is stranded at the edge of disappearing wetlands want to be inside the levees. Meanwhile, environmental scientists point out that building more levees will defeat the purpose of the project.
“This will be one of the great engineering challenges of the 21st century — on the order of the Channel Tunnel or the Three Gorges Dam. What is obvious to everyone is that something has to be done,” said Denise Reed of the University of New Orleans.
If the state approves the project, the state will turn to the federal government for funding. (River Crossings, May/June 2007)