A Sampling of River News
Things to Do in January & February
• Wabasha, Minn. — Grumpy Old Men Festival, February 24. Ice-fishing contest, polar plunge, plaid parade, bingo, cribbage tournament and minnow races.
• Winona, Minn. — Frozen River Film Festival, February 7-11. Documentary films and speakers. Last year’s event included Frozen Friday free displays and events, and kids’ activities Saturday.
• Westby, Wis. — Snowflake Ski-Jumping Tournament, February 2-3 at E7940 County Road P. Climb from the coulee to the top of the hill and watch jumpers fly by at 55 mph down a ramp as high as a 41-story skyscraper.
• McGregor, Iowa — Sny Magill Ice Fisheree, February 10 at the Sny Magill Access, about 4.5 miles south of town. Morning registration, afternoon weigh-in, prizes and raffle.
• Dubuque, Iowa — Dubuque On Ice Brewfest, February 17. Sample craft beer, wine, liquor, coffee, cheese, sausage and chocolate at the Mystique Community Ice Center. Meet brewmasters, with music by the Lonely Goats.
Watch for stunning snowy owls this winter, especially in open areas.
While scientists once thought the owls flew south when they couldn’t find enough lemmings to eat up north, they now believe these travels might be due to a healthy owl population that’s expanding, if only temporarily.
A Sampling of River News from November-December 2017
Locking the Locks
Minneapolis — The Army Corps of Engineers is considering closing two more Twin Cities locks.
The Upper St. Anthony Falls Lock closed in 2015 to keep invasive carp from spreading upriver and into Minnesota’s northern lakes. The Lower St. Anthony Falls Lock and Lock 1, at the Ford Dam, continue to operate.
Now, the Corps is studying whether to keep operating the three locks, remove them or offer them to other government agencies. The agency most interested in them is the National Park Service. Friends of the Lock and Dam are envisioning an ambitious park at the falls near Mill Ruins Park, the planned Water Works Park and the Stone Arch Bridge. This plan, however, could depend on whether the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission allows Crown Hydro to generate hydroelectricity at the falls.
This summer, the National Park Service opened its visitor center at the closed Upper St. Anthony Lock.
An environmental group, American Rivers, is advocating a more radical proposal: removal of the dam infrastructure to restore the rapids that lie under the river. (Minneapolis Star Tribune, 9-12-17; MinnPost, 9-12-17)
Locking Out Carp
Genoa, Wis. — The Army Corps of Engineers has tweaked the operation of gates at Lock and Dam 8 to reduce the spread of invasive carp. They also installed speakers to broadcast low-frequency sounds to deter the carp from swimming farther upstream. The sounds are not known to affect humans or native fish.
Davenport, Iowa — The former Rhythm City Casino barge has been removed from LeClaire Park, and moved downriver to Keokuk, opening up possibilities along the Davenport riverfront.
The barge was for sale for several years before the casino decided to donate it to the eastern Iowa city.
Possible projects in Davenport include the so-called Main Street Landing across from the Radisson Hotel, which could become a landscaped area used for festivals and food trucks. (Quad City Times, 9-1-17; Burlington Hawk Eye, 9-20-17)
St. Paul — The city has parted ways with a developer who asked for public subsidies to support about 2,500 parking stalls along the Mississippi River bluff at the former West Publishing campus along Kellogg Boulevard. Towers for a hotel, residential housing, offices and retail space would have topped the private development.
A Sampling of River News from September-October 2017
Clinton, Iowa — Closing a cut to an in-island waterway, removing silt and protecting a small, adjacent island from erosion are parts of a plan to improve habitat at the 1,678-acre Beaver Island, downriver of downtown Clinton. If funded, work could begin next year. The nearly-$20-million effort would be the largest such project ever undertaken in Pool 14.
The Army Corps of Engineers wants to improve habitat on Beaver Island’s inland lakes by cutting down the flow of fast-moving water into the island and removing six to eight feet of mud from the inland lakes. Other work aims to increase tree diversity in the island’s silver maple forest. A rock chevron, bank protection and substrate are intended to stop wave erosion on Albany Island and improve a mussel bed.
Beaver Island is a large backwater complex and one of the largest islands in the Upper Mississippi.
War on Carp
Joliet, Ill. — Noise, electricity, water jets, an engineered channel, a flushing lock, pesticides, harvest, education, monitoring, research, boat ramps and a mooring area are the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ recommendations for keeping invasive carp out of the Great Lakes.
The Great Lakes and Mississippi River Interbasin Study focuses on what could block Asian carp from moving upstream from the Brandon Road Lock and Dam near Joliet. The study’s release had been delayed since February by the Trump administration.
If adopted and funded, the proposal would cost an estimated $275 million. The study is not considering closing the artificial channel that connects the Mississippi River and Great Lakes watersheds. Public comments are being collected through September 21.
This year, the Gulf of Mexico’s Dead Zone is the largest ever measured, about 8,800 square miles, a bit bigger than New Jersey, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
The dead, or hypoxia, zone is created by nitrogen and phosphorus used in fertilizer washing downriver and fertilizing huge algae blooms that die and rot, consuming all the oxygen in the water.
The Dead Zone is biggest in summer and can be reduced by heavy storms. This year, large stream flows carried the equivalent of about 2,800 railroad cars of nitrate down the Mississippi and Atchafalaya rivers, according to a NOAA-sponsored study.
Researchers spent six days recording hypoxia at the bottom of the ocean stretching from just west of the Mississippi’s mouth to the Texas coast near Houston. Limited monitoring times may have meant that the full extent of the dead zone in Texas was not measured.
The Gulf of Mexico’s Dead Zone is the second-largest on the planet. The largest is the Baltic Sea.
This summer, a study from Duke University found that hypoxia could impede shrimp growth, leading to higher costs for large shrimp.
For years, farmers have been encouraged to reduce nutrient runoff from fields. In Wisconsin, for example, NOAA has developed Runoff Risk Advisory Forecasts to determine when to avoid applying fertilizer.
A new study, however, indicates that voluntary measures will not lower nutrients enough to make the Gulf healthy, as nutrient runoff would have to decrease by almost 60 percent. (New Orleans Times-Picayune, 8-2-17)
A Sampling of River News from July-August 2017
Falcons Go to Court
Dubuque, Iowa — A pair of peregrine falcons have returned to a nest box on the sixth-floor ledge of the Dubuque County Courthouse. A camera now livestreams images from the nest on YouTube.
“Everyone here is excited,” said Dubuque County IT superintendent Nathan Gilmore. “The falcons came in March 2015, and maintenance informed us that there were eggs up there. I grabbed a spare laptop and a webcam and started recording. Unfortunately, the eggs blew off in the wind during the night a few days after they were laid.”
The day after the egg disaster, Brian Preston, executive director of the Dubuque County Conservation Board, attached a pebble-filled nesting box on the ledge in hopes that the falcons would return, but the birds didn’t come back. In March 2016, the falcons returned but didn’t nest.
“This year, I repurposed a much higher-quality security camera to record and broadcast the falcons,” said Gilmore. “Brian worked with maintenance to put tarps over all the windows around there, fearing that there was too much activity, causing the birds not to nest.”
Efforts paid off. In April, the peregrines returned and laid three red eggs.
Trempealeau Interpretive Path
Trempealeau, Wis. — Starting at a Main Street kiosk, the Little Bluff Trail now guides visitors up the bluff to an unusual archaeological site.
A new non-profit group, Friends of Little Bluff, works to maintain and promote the site, which was built by Mississippians, whose culture was centered at the city of Cahokia, across the Mississippi from today’s St. Louis. About 1,000 years ago, they built three connected platform mounds on the bluff overlooking the river valley.
The Trempealeau Interpretive Path (TRIP) also leads to an artifact display at the Shirley M. Wright Memorial Library and an exhibit at the Perrot State Park Nature Center that gives a comprehensive 13,000-year history of the area.
River Celeb Podcast
Did you know that John James Audubon was born in Haiti, once had 200 paintings eaten by rats and became a pioneer in self-publishing? Or that bridge-builder James Eads also designed ironclad gunboats, a way of salvaging sunken steamboats and a jetty system that opened New Orleans to ocean-going vessels?
Those wishing to delve into the lives of famous river folks can now listen to a podcast released every Thursday. The National Rivers Hall of Fame podcast is hosted and produced by Bill Wiemuth of Riverhistory.com and Jerry Enzler, the founding director of the National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium.
An App for That
• Dragonfly watchers can now track sightings and more with the Dragonfly ID app, free for iPhones. Users can see and contribute to distribution maps and species information, using the OdonataCentral database.
The app, developed by a consortium of organizations, is seeking donations for Android development.
• Rock Island, Ill. — The Army Corps of Engineers’ Rock Island District offers a free app for Android and Apple devices, “USACE Rock Island,” which provides access to river levels for five river basins in the Rock Island District and connection to the District’s news and social media sites. The app also offers links to online web cameras, contracting and permitting information, recreation and reservations, job application information, emergency operations details, and river navigation charts.
More links from July-August River News:
Headwaters to Hills
A group bicycle tour, Headwaters to Hills, will take riders 455 miles in seven days, from Lake Itasca to La Crosse, Wis.
This will be the third year of the ride, which follows the Mississippi River Trail in Minnesota through Bemidji, Brainerd, St. Cloud, the Twin Cities, Hastings, Red Wing, Winona and La Crescent.
Riders will meet at St. Paul’s Union Depot August 23, leave Itasca State Park the next morning and arrive in La Crosse August 30. The registration is $800 through June 1, then it increases to $850. The fee covers most meals and camping fees.
A Sampling of River News from May-June 2017
Choir Boys on the River
Washington, D.C. – The American Road & Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA), a national transportation construction trade association founded in 1902, has released its 2016 report on structurally deficient bridges in the U.S. According to ARTBA, 185 million daily crossings in the U.S. occur on some 56,000 structurally deficient bridges.
Although Iowa ranks 30th in state population, it ranks first for structurally deficient bridges. Of Iowa’s 24,184 bridges, 4,968, or 21 percent, are classified structurally deficient by ARTBA. According to the report, the 77-year-old Centennial Bridge connecting Davenport, Iowa, and Rock Island, Illinois, ranks as the busiest deficient bridge in Iowa. Engineers for the Illinois Department of Transportation District 2 point out that the Centennial Bridge is safe in spite of the designation, which it received for its lack of shoulders.
Illinois ranked 6th in the total number of deficient bridges while Wisconsin ranked 17th, and Minnesota came in at 26, according to the report. (Moline Dispatch-Argus, 2-16-17; ARTBA)
A Sampling of River News from March-April 2017
Death on the River
How you are likely to die depends on where you live.
A study published in JAMA in December 2016 analyzed mortality rates for 21 major causes of death from 1980 to 2014 across the U.S., by county. There were large differences for every cause of death. Many findings centered on the Lower Mississippi River valley. For example, people who live in counties along the southern half of the Mississippi River — as well as in eastern Kentucky, western West Virginia and western Alaska — showed high mortality rates from tumors.
Mortality rates from blood and endocrine diseases, and diabetes, were particularly high in counties along the Mississippi River in Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi, as well as in counties in North Dakota and South Dakota with Indian reservations.
Chronic respiratory diseases were observed in a prominent cluster in eastern Kentucky and West Virginia and in a second cluster in southeastern Colorado, while the lowest mortality rates were found in the Upper Midwest, the Washington, DC, area, southern Florida, southern Texas and central Colorado.
The study, “US County-Level Trends in Mortality Rates for Major Causes of Death, 1980-2014,” is on the JAMA website. (JAMA, 12-13-16)
Master River Steward
Des Moines — The Iowa Rivers Revival, a nonprofit environmental and advocacy organization, is offering free training to people who care about rivers, and want to learn more about them and teach others.
The Master River Stewards Program will include 32 hours of instruction about watersheds, river and stream dynamics, habitats and wildlife; paddling and navigation; chemistry and water monitoring; restoration and stewardship; and policies for protecting water quality.
After the courses, participants will spend 32 hours designing and carrying out a project in their communities.
The River Stewards program aims to build a network of river advocates and experts across the state to protect and improve Iowa’s rivers.
The schedule of courses this year runs through the spring and summer:
For more information, see the Iowa Rivers Revival website.
Inventory of Springs
St. Paul — The geology of the Driftless Area predicts that many springs connected to underground aquifers bubble up in farm fields, creek edges and backyards. In Minnesota there are an estimated 22,000 springs. Only 5,000 are on the map.
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) wants to know more and is asking residents to help develop a database of springs. Its “Spring Reporting App” is available online for people to use from mobile phones or laptops. A Spring Inventory Map will be released after the DNR verifies the locations of the springs.
A Sampling of River News from January-February 2017
Looking for Eddies
Davenport, Iowa — Do you know someone in the Quad Cities who deserves recognition for going against the current to get good things done for the river or its tributaries? River Action, a non-profit environmental organization, is calling for nominations for its 18th annual Eddy Awards. The award is named for the eddies in rivers and streams, which move against the current. The award recognizes individuals, organizations, corporations, schools, groups and governments that go against the current to get things done.
Awards are presented in six categories — education, design, river activity, arts, stewardship and revitalization. The deadline is January 20, 2017. Winners will be announced at the annual Fish & Fire Dinner on April 21, 2017.
Dump, Not Maintenance
Colona, Ill. — The Quad Cities Waterkeeper and Prairie Rivers Network won an important lawsuit when U.S. District Judge Sara Darrow ruled that defendants Ballegeer Excavation, David Ballegeer, Ballegeer Trucking and Francis Ballegeer violated the federal Clean Water Act (CWA) when they dumped thousands of tons of concrete waste into and on the banks of more than a mile of the Green River, a tributary to the Rock River, near the Quad Cities.
The September 29 ruling condemned the Ballegeers for transforming the riverbank into a “concrete wasteland.” On some sections along the Green River, chunks of concrete were piled more than five feet deep.
The Ballegeers along with the local office of the Army Corps of Engineers had claimed that the concrete dump constituted maintenance of a levee and therefore was exempt from the CWA. The court ruled that the action was not exempt, setting a precedent.
The trial to settle remedies is scheduled to begin on January 30. (Quad Cities Waterkeeper, 10-5-16; QConline.com, 12-2-16) See a video of the concrete dump along the Green River.
Wisconsin — Season two of the Wisconsin Breeding Bird Atlas II, a multi-year survey designed to assess changes in nesting-bird counts, is complete after volunteers documented 220 species, including 11 new to Wisconsin in the past 20 years.
The survey is a follow-up to the 1995-2000 survey that became a reference book still used to help with species conservation and land management planning. The latest survey will continue through 2019 to fill coverage gaps in some areas.
More than 1,000 volunteers reported increases in peregrine falcons, bald eagles, trumpeter swans, orchard orioles and tufted titmouses. Mississippi kites, a common southeastern U.S. raptor known for its aerial acrobatics, were discovered in Wisconsin, with confirmation of a pair raising a chick in Rock County. Volunteers also confirmed canvasback and blue grosbeak, a rare breeder in Wisconsin.
Volunteers are still needed to observe birds and enter sightings into an online eBird database developed by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. People of all skill levels are encouraged to join in. See how to get started. (lacrossetribune.com, 10-5-16)
Pocket Prairies & Prothonotaries
Moline, Ill. — Two natural areas in the Quad Cities are benefiting from Western Illinois University-Quad Cities (WIU-QC) research projects.
Forty acres of wetland at Nahant Marsh’s Carp Lake, on Davenport, Iowa’s, west side, have been included in the Prothonotary Project, named for the prothonotary warbler, one of only two warblers in North America that use nest boxes. More than 50 nest boxes were installed around the wetland to attract the little yellow warblers, since they prefer to nest over water.
WIU students are checking the nest boxes and collecting data on reproductive success, habitat features, nest location and nest box preference. Future plans call for capturing and tagging some of the birds to track their movement and migration.
Another project will focus on turning the land around two retention ponds between WIU-QC buildings and the Mississippi River into native “pocket prairies.” Seeds, plant plugs and supplies purchased with a $2,500 Living Lands and Waters grant will help students install an American kestrel nest box and a purple martin house, remove invasive grasses and shrubs, and plant swamp milkweed. Facebook page (WIU-QC, 10-6-16)
A Sampling of River News from November-December 2016
Congress authorized the Upper Mississippi River Restoration Program (UMRR) 30 years ago, in the 1986 Water Resources Development Act, to address ecological needs on the Upper Mississippi River System (UMRS). Two major elements of the program — Habitat Rehabilitation and Enhancement Projects (HREPs) and Long Term Resource Monitoring (LTRM) — were designed to improve the health of the UMRS.
Rehabilitation projects overseen by the St. Paul, Rock Island and St. Louis districts of the Corps, the natural resource agencies in the UMRR states, and other federal and non-federal partners have improved habitat and water quality in stretches of the Upper Mississippi, allowing the return of several fish and aquatic species.
The Capoli Slough Habitat Rehabilitation and Enhancement Project, in Pool 9 of the Mississippi River near Ferryville, Wis., protected 10 islands and built nine new ones, restoring 49 acres. Backwater areas were dredged to restore water depths and fish and wildlife habitat. The project was carried out by the Wisconsin and Iowa DNRs, along with the Corps and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Another multistate project is underway at Harpers Slough, in Pool 9 near Harpers Ferry, Iowa. The Harpers Slough Habitat Rehabilitation and Enhancement project will protect some 46 acres of existing islands and construct another 52 acres of new islands. Harpers Slough is a 2,200-acre backwater area three miles upstream from Lock and Dam 9 in the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge. It is home to tundra swans, Canada geese, a variety of puddle and diving ducks, black terns, nesting eagles, bitterns and cormorants, and serves as a fish nursery as well. The stabilization of some 7,000 square feet of islands is expected to slow the loss of existing islands, reduce the flow of sediment-laden water into the backwaters and increase land and shore habitat diversity.
Long-term monitoring of fish, aquatic vegetation and water quality in Pool 8 between Genoa, Wis., upstream of Lock and Dam 7 near Dresbach, Minn., has been carried out by the Wisconsin DNR since the 1990s. Results analyzed in 2015 show that restoration efforts have reduced suspended solids in water as well as encouraged the return or expansion of wild rice and wild celery and some fish on the threatened list.
More Effigy News
Harpers Ferry, Iowa — Rep. Rob Bishop, chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, sent a letter to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell in late August calling for a briefing to address the National Park Service’s (NPS) mismanagement of the Effigy Mounds National Monument.
Bishop, R-Utah, claims the NPS provided “little to no oversight” over the past two decades as one Effigy Mounds superintendent spent $3.4 million on illegal projects that included construction of a boardwalk system through sensitive American Indian burial sites and another superintendent stole ancient human remains from the monument’s collection and kept them in his garage for 20 years. (ccenterdispatch.com, 8-30-16)
• In early October, the superintendent of the monument, Jim Nepstad, announced the beginning of a process that will decide the fate of structures that were built between 1999 and 2009 without complying with review requirements.
Two boardwalks, three bridges, fence posts and a shed foundation that may have damaged archaeological sites will be considered for removal and restoration. Removing some structures may cause more damage to a site. Ironwood fence railings at Fire Point Overlook cannot be tested for strength, which makes them dangerous to visitors who may lean or climb on them.
According to Audubon’s Brand Smith, coordinator of one of the largest kestrel-nest-box programs in the country, kestrels prefer to build nests near power lines, where they can perch to keep an eye out for prey, such as grasshoppers, small rodents and small birds.
Nesting season is over, but you can start now to build kestrel homes for next spring. Blueprints for nest boxes can be found at Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Nest Watch website. (Audubon, October 2016)
A Sampling of River News From September-October 2016
Wisconsin wants to catalog its wild animal population by placing and monitoring some 6,000 motion-activated trail cameras around the state.
The ambitious project, called Snapshot Wisconsin, is expected to identify the size of the state’s animal populations and their movements. Hunters have been at odds with the DNR’s deer population estimates and management for years, arguing that the DNR typically overestimates the size of deer herds.
The DNR hopes to estimate species populations based on the number of times various animals appear in the photographs. They also hope to compare the information collected from the cameras with NASA satellite imagery to develop maps showing seasonal animal movement and preferred environments.(Dubuque Telegraph Herald, 5-21-16)
Expanding a Sand Mine
Guttenberg, Iowa — On Aug. 11, the Clayton County, Iowa, Planning and Zoning Commission recommended approval of the Pattison Sand Company’s request to rezone 746 acres from agricultural to heavy industrial use. The rezoning will allow Pattison to expand its underground silica sand mining operations sevenfold.
The Clayton County Board of Supervisors was scheduled to vote on the project on August 15.
A five-person committee studied the request for five months to weigh citizen concerns about the expansion’s possible impacts on residents, the environment and tourism. The committee’s report called for 16 restrictions addressing concerns over environmental degradation, noise, traffic, public health and worker safety.
One restriction called for all mining to be done underground and recommended that stored sand piles not be visible from the Great River Road. Another would require that ventilation shafts be at least 1,500 feet from homes, farms, feedlots and public space, and that air quality be monitored to Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) specifications. Other restrictions addressed transportation of sand, surface-water testing, well-water testing and hiring a licensed engineering firm to design, inspect and certify tunnels under the Great River Road.
The Planning and Zoning Commission approved the project with only one condition: that all mining be done underground.
Pattison Sand’s health and safety director, Tim Adkins, said that many of the study group’s recommendations were already being performed as required by regulatory agencies and company policy. Independent studies by the University of Iowa and the Wisconsin DNR have indicated that sand mining does not pose a high risk to employees and the surrounding area. Pattison has taken voluntary steps to reduce airborne silica by applying a coating to the company’s storage piles. (Dubuque Telegraph Herald, 8-11-16 & 7-9-16)
Alligator Gar vs. Carp
Tupelo, Miss. — The alligator gar, the second largest fish in the U.S., is a fierce predator with two rows of sharp teeth. It has shown a liking for invasive carp, so efforts are underway to reintroduce them into the Upper Mississippi River, in hopes they will eat lots of young invasive carp. Missouri is restocking them, primarily to keep buffalo fish, shad and carp in balance. Illinois passed a resolution urging the state department of natural resources to speed up its program to protect all four gar species native to the state.
The fish can grow to eight or nine feet and weigh more than 300 pounds. Alligator gar grow fast. In one Illinois lake where they were stocked, they grew to four feet in just six years. Biologists think they might feed heavily on young invasive carp. The big gar were nearly exterminated 50 years ago, when people thought they harmed gamefish populations.
Today alligator gar survive only in the southern states. (Southeast Missourian, 7-24-16; Minneapolis Star Tribune, 7-29-16)
Minneapolis — Would you like to kayak downriver through the city, but you don’t have a kayak, paddle, life jacket or a way to get back to your car? The National Park Service and several partners are making that possible for would-be paddlers in the Twin Cities, with Mississippi River Paddle Share.
It will initially install kayak rental stations near bike rental stations at two places on the river — North Mississippi Regional Park and four miles downstream at Boom Island Park. Paddlers can rent a kayak, paddle and lifejacket for four hours for $30, after they watch a safety video and sign a waiver. After returning their gear at a downstream station, they can rent a bike and ride back to their starting point.
The pilot program, which was funded by the National Park Service’s Transportation Program and outdoor outfitter REI, launched August 27.
Other public rent-a-kayak programs have been set up on city lakes, but this is the first to be tried on a river. If it’s successful, more stations will be added to the system. (WCCO, 8-4-16)
A Sampling of River News From July-August 2016
St. Paul — Six-story buildings would be allowed anywhere along the 72-mile river corridor through the Twin Cities, if the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources’ new rules go into effect. Under existing rules, most buildings outside St. Paul’s downtown core can be no more than 40 feet tall, or four stories, about the height of the tree canopy.
Height is controversial, because it gives better river views to some while blocking the views of others and affects the view from the river and from across the river. In June 2015, the city council voted 7-0 to force a developer to scale back a proposed six-story luxury apartment building on Shepard Road on the river.
Other provisions of the rules categorize the land into types, each of which has its own standards covering setback, slope and bluffs.
The new rules for the Mississippi River Corridor Critical Area, released in April, are meant to guide development of land bordering the river in 30 local jurisdictions. The rules are the result of a lengthy process following orders written by governors in the 1970s saying that “unregulated development and uncoordinated planning would threaten the public interest.” The new rules will update state standards currently implemented through local plans and zoning ordinances.
Public hearings were scheduled for June, with comments accepted through July 6. New rules might be adopted by the end of 2016. To read the new rules and to comment by the July 6 deadline, see the DNR’s Mississippi River Corridor Critical Area Rulemaking site (St. Paul Pioneer Press, 5-16-16)
Corps Canoe Trip
St. Paul — The Army Corps of Engineers is usually more concerned with towboats and barges than canoes, but this year a group of volunteers from the Corps’ St. Paul District picked up paddles and headed downstream. The group is canoeing from the Headwaters to Guttenberg, Iowa, to commemorate the district’s sesquicentennial celebration.
They started from Lake Itasca on May 20 and will canoe each weekend until they reach Lock and Dam 10, in Guttenberg, hopefully on August 17, to mark the day Major Governor K. Warren arrived in St. Paul with orders to set up an engineering office, 150 years ago. The public is invited to paddle along with the Corps along the way. (La Crosse Tribune, 5-24-16)
River News From May-June 2016:
App for Frog Counters
St. Paul — The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has launched a new online mapping application that allows volunteers to sign up to be surveyors for the Minnesota Frog and Toad Survey, an important effort to monitor these amphibians. Frogs and toads are one of the best indicators of the health of wetlands. The app provides a wealth of information, including results from past years, descriptions of frogs and toads, and recordings of frog calls.
Cormorant Slaughter Illegal
Washington, D.C. — The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) should not have allowed tens of thousands of migratory aquatic birds to be shot each year to protect wild and farmed fish, according to a ruling in March 2016 by U.S. District Judge John D. Bates.
Since 1998, the FWS has allowed fish farmers to kill cormorants eating or threatening to eat their fish. In 2003, the agency said Indian tribes and state and federal wildlife agents could also kill birds about to eat “public resources of fish.” Those orders have been renewed every five years and still stand. The most recent renewal, extending from 2014 to 2019, simply copied bird population estimates from 2009 and did not update them.
The advocacy group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) sued the government to stop the practice. The group claimed that up to 160,000 double-crested cormorants have been killed each year to protect sport fish in 24 states east of the Mississippi River and fish farms in 13 of those states.
The FWS argued that it lacks resources to study the environmental effects or possible alternatives to its policies on cormorants, but that it would review and study the decision.
Judge Bates wrote that the lack-of-resources argument did not hold. Otherwise it could destroy the National Environmental Protection Act, because many agencies could make the same argument.
According to the Wilderness Society, investments in natural resources have been falling for decades, from a high of about 2.5 percent of the federal budget in 1976 to less than one percent in 2015. FWS funding for the fiscal year 2016 is nearly 15 percent below fiscal year 2010, adjusted for inflation. See the Wilderness Society’s report, “How Budget Cuts are Impacting Our Communities and the Environment: the Case for Reinvestment in FY17,” on its website. (Quad-City Times, 3-30-16; Wilderness.org)
Black Carp Reproducing
Cape Girardeau, Mo. — Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) researchers recently reported the first documented evidence of invasive black carp reproduction in the wild in North America. Last November, two unidentified carp were found in a ditch connected to the Mississippi River near Cape Girardeau. Genetic analysis confirmed that they were juvenile black carp. Further testing also determined they were capable of reproduction.
Black carp are a species of invasive Asian carp found in many Missouri rivers. They originally arrived in the U.S. in shipments of grass carp and were introduced into farm ponds. Flooding and accidental release in bait buckets have allowed them to spread. Now they compete with native fish species for food, even eating native mussels that are important to the health of river habitat.
To stop the spread of black carp, fishermen are encouraged to avoid introducing the species into new bodies of water when dumping bait and to make sure stocked fish come only from licensed vendors.
Black carp sightings should be reported to the MDC, either by contacting a fisheries biologist at the Southeast Regional Office, 573-290-5730, or by contacting the Big Rivers and Wetlands Field Station in Jackson, 573-243-2659.
A new film celebrating the National Park Service’s 100th birthday was released in February. The 40-minute, MacGillivray Freeman film is narrated by Robert Redford and follows a team of adventurers as they explore national parks across America.
The movie, shown in IMAX and giant screen theaters, gives an overview of the national parks’ history with dazzling footage from 30 of the nation’s more than 400 national park sites.
Des Moines, Iowa — On March 23, 2016, Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad signed legislation that will require the Department of Natural Resources to set rules to protect four species of turtles from overharvest. Legislators in both houses passed the bill overwhelmingly, and the governor signed it just two days after it reached his desk.
The Natural Resources Commission will limit the season and number of turtles that can be harvested. Currently, turtles can be hunted year round, even during nesting season. Although Iowa turtle populations are healthy, the new bill is expected to prevent them from becoming endangered. Turtles lay many eggs, but many eggs become food for predators or never hatch, so turtles can’t reproduce as quickly as other commonly hunted animals.
Turtle meat is a traditional food in many Asian countries where turtle populations are declining. Now, hunters are exploring new areas to meet the demand. The new bill will discourage overhunting in Iowa.
River News from March-April 2016
Lots of Goldens
Wabasha, Minn. — More than 180 volunteers drove and hiked off into the blufflands on January 16, looking for golden eagles, during the 12th annual Wintering Golden Eagle Survey sponsored by the National Eagle Center. They counted 147 golden eagles. Last year they counted 134. This year the volunteers also counted 1,509 bald eagles, compared to last year’s 1,773.
Worn Rails Fail
Washington, D.C. — Old tanker cars that are more likely to rupture on impact contribute to explosive railroad accidents, but the rails they travel may also be a problem. The Federal Railroad Administration will take a look at rules governing worn rails in 2016.
Cedar Rapids, Iowa — Former Effigy Mounds National Monument superintendent Thomas Munson pleaded guilty to embezzlement on January 4, for taking two boxes of prehistoric human remains from the monument’s collection in Marquette, Iowa, in 1990 and hiding them in his garage in Prairie du Chien, Wis., for 20 years. Munson agreed to pay $108,000 in restitution to cover the costs of the government’s investigation, publicly apologize to tribes with probable descendants of people who lived there, complete 100 hours of community service, and serve a year’s probation and home detention with confinement on 10 consecutive weekends.
River News from January-February 2016
Island Arsenal Tightens Security
Rock Island, Ill. — If you plan to tour Arsenal Island — the Mississippi River Visitor Center at Lock and Dam 15, National Cemetery, Arsenal Museum, Davenport House or any of the other attractions — be prepared for an enhanced security screening. As of December 1, visitors must first check in at the new Visitors Center at the Moline gate to get a pass (enter from River Drive in Moline). You will need to show a photo ID (for example, a valid driver’s license or passport) and agree to a criminal background check. The process could take several minutes.
You will not be able to get a pass if you are a foreign national (unless you are visiting on official business) or under 18 and not accompanied by an adult. If the criminal background check isn’t favorable, you will also be denied access.
Better Streams, More Trout
Trout Unlimited (TU), an international conservation organization, has released its “2015 State of the Trout” report detailing the status of 28 species of trout and char native to 38 of the 50 United States. The report says only 25 species remain, with 13 found in less than a quarter of their historic habitat. Trout need clean cool water to survive. Land development, over fishing, water pollution, erosion from early farming practices, poor logging and livestock grazing practices, climate change, and the introduction of non-native species have led to the extinction of three trout species. Six species are currently listed as either threatened or endangered.
The report notes regional progress. In the Driftless Area, a 24,000 square-mile area of Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa and Illinois that straddles the Mississippi River, TU has restored more than 450 miles of streams in the last 25 years. Many projects were on private land with angler access easements. Fish counts before restoration were from 200 to 300 fish per stream mile. After restoration they increased to over 2,000 fish per stream mile.
“We often go from these eroding banks or streams edged with shallow-rooted trees to restored streams,” said Duke Welter, conservation coordinator with organization’s Driftless Area Restoration Effort (DARE). “Once the prairie grasses grow in, you won’t know restoration has taken place. But the trout, which often increase tenfold, do. And the snakes, turtles, frogs, butterflies, shore and water birds do, too, because we build in habitat for them as well.”
A good example is Pine Creek near Maiden Rock, Wis., on Lake Pepin. “Two miles of restoration has turned Pine Creek into a gorgeous, spring-fed creek with a healthy brook trout population and scenic surroundings,” said Welter. “Not only a lovely place to fish or watch birds and butterflies, but a forager’s delight and an opportunity for the turkey or deer hunter, in season.”
(Milwaukee Journal Sentinel 7-14-12; East Oregonian, 9-18-15; 2015 State of the Trout)
Busy, Cleaner Year
Moline, Ill. — The year 2015 was more productive than ever for the nonprofit river cleanup organization Living Lands and Waters (LLW). In his annual year-end letter, founder Chad Pregracke counted more than 200 cleanups completed in 12 states and a record 64 events in 56 days in three states. LLW also expanded operations to the Tennessee River and added three new pieces of equipment to its fleet: a garbage barge, mini-towboat and an excavator.
LLW’s new goal is to work with partners and volunteers to remove 1,000,000 pounds of debris each year from America’s rivers. The nearly nine million pounds they’ve removed since 1998 includes 12 motorcycles, 13 hot tubs, 59 couches, 13 prosthetic limbs, one combine harvester, 4 pianos, 73,374 tires and enough foot-thick styrofoam to cover 14 football fields, among other things itemized on the “Stats” section of the organization’s web page. (Living Lands and Waters letter, 12-4-15)
La Crosse, Wis. — Fish researchers with the La Crosse Fish and Wildlife Service office finally captured and tagged invasive Asian carp in Pool 16 (Muscatine, Iowa), after failing several times in upstream pools earlier this year.
Using surgical gear and several hundred yards of gillnets, the team of three went out one windy, cold week in October and caught six Asian carp — four silver carp and one hybrid Asian carp. They implanted acoustic transmitters in them before releasing them.
The purpose of the tagging is to follow the fish as they move around, to learn where they live and to aid future efforts to control their spread. Similar research has been done in Pools 17, 18 and 19.
The Nonindigenous Aquatic Species website, hosted by the U.S. Geological Survey, shows this is the first time a state or federal agency has captured and reported Asian carp in Pool 16. Silver, bighead and grass carp have been found in Pools 17 through 25. The website’s animated map shows a steady upstream movement of silver carp, which are the ones that leap from the water when disturbed. (FWS Making Waves, October 2015)
Guttenberg, Iowa — The mudpuppy is a rare aquatic salamander species that lives in and near the Mississippi River, among other places, but is rarely seen. Mudpuppies can grow to 16 inches long, but they live underwater and are very good at hiding under rocks, in debris and near wet places.
In July 2008, a DM&E train derailed after a boulder dislodged by heavy rain tore up some track near Guttenberg. Four locomotives sank in the river and leaked oil for several days. When biologists found a dead juvenile mudpuppy, they obtained some of the $625,000 settlement to conduct a mudpuppy study.
River Data on Demand
Data about water levels, precipitation, water flow rates, and lock and dam projects is now online at CWMS Data Dissemination. The Army Corps of Engineers site features simplified charts and graphs, and live data about levels and flow at 1,700 sites across the nation, along with links to more details. You can find what you want by entering a city, state and zip code or by choosing from a map. (Waterways Journal, 11-9-15)
River News from November-December 2015
River Stories & Sounds
California artist Wes Modes spent the summer of 2015 traveling the Mississippi River’s Driftless Area on a shantyboat, visiting river towns and collecting river stories and photographs as part of a multi-year art and history project dubbed “A Secret History of American River People.”
Modes, who recently finished MFA studies in digital and new media at the University of California in Santa Cruz, was inspired by Harlan Hubbard’s Shantyboat: A River Way of Life, a book that chronicled the author’s five years on board a shantyboat in the 1940s. Modes built his own shantyboat in 2012 using a chicken coop and a small barge. He began collecting and recording Mississippi River stories during the summer of 2014.
Modes hopes to chronicle stories from several American rivers and combine them into an exhibition that will include portraits and video biographies of people he interviews, in addition to an interactive web documentary and a research archive of the collected stories. Details of Modes’ journey and project are on his website.
Twin Cities media artists Monica Haller and Sebastian Muellauer joined Modes at Guttenberg, Iowa, and traveled downriver to Dubuque while conducting their own river research — mapping the sounds of the Mississippi from the headwaters to the delta. They plan to bring the archive of sounds back to the Twin Cities to exhibit in a “listening station” on the banks of the river.
Haller is listening to and recording underwater river sounds using a floating drone, called ORB. Muellauer built the drone out of a large inner tube — the center is the electronic hub of the robot buoy, which suspends under- and above-water audio recording devices, a camera and water sensors to record and transmit river sounds for archival purposes. Access to these sounds will be available as a “listening station” located long-term at an institution along the Mississippi, or short term at several places along the river. Museums and organizations interested in participating are invited to contact Haller.
“Beneath the Ground,” Haller’s recent exhibit at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, featured core samples of soil from Minnesota, northern Iowa and as far south as New Orleans. Follow Haller’s current river research on her facebook page, “Listening to the Mississippi.” (Dubuque Telegraph Herald, 7-24-15; Guttenberg Press, 8-5-15)
Historic Photos Online
Des Moines — You can now see five decades of Iowa aerial photos at the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) website, thanks to the Iowa Historic Digital Aerial Photo Project, funded in part by grants from the state’s Resource Enhancement and Protection program (REAP).
In 2009 and 2011, Historical Resource Development Program grants from REAP helped the DNR’s Geographic Information System Section obtain photos from archives across Iowa and the nation. For more than eight years, from 2004 to 2012, the photos were scanned and matched to their actual locations, to produce images of the entire state.
Visitors to the DNR website can view Iowa landscapes from the 1930s through the 1970s to see how development and urbanization has changed the state. Soil and stream bank erosion patterns, conservation improvements and changes in vegetation and habitat can also be used to compare “trends in land use and natural resource management,” according to the DNR, “which are important to developers, landowners and managers, and planners who need to understand how a property was previously used in order to evaluate history’s environmental and character impacts.”
Changes in the Mississippi River and its shoreline development are reflected in the photos. Check out the 1930s photos to view locks and dams in various states of completion.
To see them, zoom in to the part of the state you are interested in. Use the “Basemaps” tab at the top of the page to access a pull-down menu. Click between the different maps in the pull down menu to make decade-to-decade comparisons of Iowa’s landscape.
Flush Back Lock
Joliet, Ill. — A new type of lock has been proposed to control the spread of invasive Asian carp and other unwanted species from the Mississippi River basin into the Great Lakes.
The Great Lakes and Mississippi River Interbasin Study (GLMRIS) suggests that a “flushing lock” could be constructed on the Illinois River at the Brandon Road lock near Joliet. The lock, located downstream of the confluence of the Des Plaines River and the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal, would push water from the lock back in the direction it came from, thus flushing back fish that might have gotten into the lock chamber.
In May 2015, the Corps released a scoping document for an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). It anticipates releasing the draft EIS in late 2016. The scoping summary can be found online.
Construction costs for the new lock are estimated at more than $1 billion, which is considerably less than the $18 billion estimate for separating the Mississippi River and the Great Lakes watersheds. (Our Mississippi, Summer 2015)
Dubuque, Iowa – In early August, the city of Dubuque, Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR), Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation and Friends of the Mines of Spain celebrated completion of the 52-acre E.B. Lyons Interpretive Area Addition adjacent to the Mines of Spain State Recreation Area, a sprawling park south of Dubuque along the Mississippi River.
The project included construction of an accessible trail from the current E.B. Lyons Center to a new trail along a tall-grass prairie and overlook, the State Tree Woodland Walk, two new parking lots, a shelter, restrooms, a new DNR maintenance facility, kiosks and interpretive signs. Scenic views, including an area on the park’s north side designated as the Catfish Creek State Preserve, were improved, native vegetation near the center was restored and runoff was reduced, improving the water quality in Catfish and Granger creeks.
More than 250,000 visitors explore the Mines of Spain each year. The park boasts several official designations: It is a state Watchable Wildlife Area and an Important Bird Area — more than 213 species have been identified there. The Mines of Spain is part of the National Recreation Trails System and a National Historic Landmark, with 252 known archaeological sites.
According to city officials, the new acquisition will “buffer the park and interpretive center from development and protect and enhance the park’s historical, archeological, cultural and natural resources.” (Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation website)
River News From July-August 2015:
Classroom on the River
Minneapolis — In September, Augsburg College will send 20 students, faculty and staff downriver from Lake Itasca headed to the Gulf of Mexico in four voyageur canoes. The group will study environmental, biological and political subjects, and delve into individual research projects along the way. Students will also attend town hall meetings and meet with environmental organizations.
Old Lead in the Water
Dubuque, Iowa — A University of Dubuque student’s research confirms that Dubuque’s waterways continue to be affected by historic lead mining.
“The effects of mining are still existing, and they will forever be existing,” according to Kyle Leytem, a senior environmental science major who spent the summer of 2014 exploring Dubuque-area waterways measuring lead content. His research showed higher levels of lead in the Mississippi between Dubuque and Bellevue, Iowa, than in other sections of the river.
Lead mining in Dubuque began on a small scale with the Native Americans and was a major source of income for settlers in the early and mid 1800s. At one time, an estimated 80 percent of Dubuque’s population mined lead. Early lead miner and historian Lucius H. Langworthy reported that between 40 and 60 million pounds of lead from Dubuque area mines were exported annually from 1833 to 1856.
Over time, lead mining and the after effects of abandoned mines caused dangerous metals to leach into nearby waterways. Leytem’s study of lead concentrations in Mississippi River pools 11 and 12, upriver and downriver from Lock and Dam 11, found higher lead concentrations in pool 12. Concentrations were especially high throughout and at the mouth of Catfish Creek, which feeds into the Mississippi south of Dubuque in the Mines of Spain State Recreation Area, an area noted for lead mining.
For more information, watch Leytem discuss his findings on a YouTube video “Concentration of Sedimentation: Effects of Mining within Streams.” (Dubuque Telegraph Herald, 4-29-15)
Going the Length
Itasca, Minn. — Navy combat veteran Chris Ring stepped into the headwaters of the Mississippi River on June 6, with plans to swim its length. He began his 2,552-mile swim on the 71st anniversary of D-Day and expects to finish at the Gulf of Mexico on Veterans’ Day, November 11. Ring’s swim is part of a project called “Legacy Challenge: Swim for Their Sacrifice,” to bring together and honor the sacrifice of people who have lost family members to war. For more information visit the Legacies website.
Swimming the length of the river is uncommon — many more people paddle a canoe or kayak — but Ring is not the first to do it. Professional marathon swimmer Martin Strel completed the swim in 2002 and performance artist Billy Curmano, a veteran of the war in Vietnam, swam it for two months every summer for ten years to spotlight ecological damage to the river. (St. Paul Pioneer Press, 6-8-15)
Meanwhile, 80-year-old Dale Sanders of Bartlett, Tenn., started on his own Headwaters-to-Gulf paddling trip on June 4. He’s paddling with a purpose — to bring awareness to and raise money for juvenile diabetes. Sanders’ grandniece has the disease. Two cameramen and a 70-year-old friend are accompanying him.
Sanders said he was a competitive spear fisherman back in the 1960s and hasn’t done anything significant since. He aims to paddle the river in 80 days and capture the record for oldest person to paddle the whole river. (Fargo Valley News Live.com, 5-21-15)
New River Trail
Hastings, Minn. — A new section of recreational trail in Spring Lake Park Preserve is under construction. The 4.3-mile, $8.9-million Spring Lake Regional Trail from eastern Rosemount through Nininger Township will include two bridges over ravines, scenic overlooks and prairie restorations. It will connect with the popular Schaar’s Bluff gathering center. The new section, which is scheduled to be finished in the fall of 2016, is part of the Mississippi River Regional Trail linking St. Paul to Hastings, mostly along the river. Spring Lake is a Mississippi River backwater lake upstream of Lock and Dam 2 and Hastings.
“There’s a lot happening along the Mississippi River,” said John Mertens, senior planner with Dakota County. “We just finished the Swing Bridge trailhead and are just beginning the trail from Harriet Island to South St. Paul. By 2018 the whole trail from Harriet Island, in St. Paul, to Hastings will be complete. Meanwhile the city of Prescott [Wis.] will build a trail linking to Hastings.”
River News from May-June 2015
Faulty Wheel Derails Train
Galena, Ill. — A fiery oil-train derailment near the Mississippi River on March 5 was caused by a faulty wheel, according to Matt Rose, the CEO of Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad.
Prepare to Evacuate
Canadian Pacific (CP) and Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) railroads are making major investments to upgrade their tracks and connections in the Upper Mississippi River valley, in anticipation of a continued oil boom.
Paducah, Ky. — Commercial fishermen in Kentucky will be paid at least 15 cents a pound for Asian carp, thanks to a new subsidy from the state. Until now, some fish processors have paid just eight to 10 cents, not enough for fishermen to break even. The state will give tax incentives to at least three fisheries to process and market the carp to worldwide consumers.