Big River Magazine
Mississippi River stories and news

May-June 2012

Highlights from this issue

Where can I buy BIG RIVER?

Subscribe with your credit card

Subscribe and pay later

River Links

Big River Advertisers

Buy single and back issues of Big River


River Trips

Carp Challenge

Back Issues

River News
From May-June 2012 Big River

Frac Sand Update

• So far, three counties in Wisconsin have adopted moratoriums on new or expanding frac sand mining operations: Eau Claire for six months, Buffalo for seven months, and Pepin for one year. The Buffalo County Board of Adjustment denied permission for a mine in Gilmanton that would have sent 126 loaded trucks per day down Highway 88, a notoriously curvy and hilly route, but several other proposals were accepted before the moratorium was established. Trempealeau County, which already has active sand mines, has not moved to slow the sand rush, although the tiny town of Gale denied a request for a zoning change that would have allowed a mine on the forested banks of the Black River, a home to red-shouldered hawks.

• Five counties in Minnesota (Wabasha, Goodhue, Winona, Houston and Fillmore) have established moratoriums. Winona County’s moratorium extends until May 1. The others are for one year.

• The Minnesota cities and towns of Red Wing, Lake City, Hay Creek, Winona and Florence have passed moratoriums on new or expanding frac sand operations. Winona’s moratorium won’t stop a new frac sand washing facility from being built in the city this summer, because the owner applied for permits before the moratorium was passed, according to the city’s Community Development office.

• Moratoriums that ensure a measure of local control over developments will be much harder to get in Minnesota if proposed legislation passes. House File 389 and Senate File 270 give local units of government just 10 days after a proposal to post notice and hold a public hearing before enacting a moratorium. If they miss that window of opportunity, the proposed project will be exempt. House File 389 requires an 80 percent majority of the local board or council to enact a moratorium.

• The Scott County (Minn.) Board reviewed the Great Plains Sands’ Environmental Awareness Worksheet and determined an Environmental Impact Statement is not needed and the project can proceed. The Merriam Junction Sands project, in the same county, is just beginning its Environmental Impact Statement process.

• In Clayton, Iowa, Pattison Sand Company’s underground sand mine, on the Mississippi River, was closed temporarily last summer after part of the ceiling collapsed in an underground tunnel. The company’s 44 miners were put to work on a surface mine nearby. The company has since resumed some underground mining.

Pattison frac sand trucks bound for rail transfer stations in Prairie du Chien, Wis., travel down McGregor, Iowa’s, Main Street, which is a state highway.

“We have traffic studies on the to-do list for this summer. The Iowa Department of Transportation will look at traffic count, do a speed study and look at parking and safety issues,” said city administrator Lynette Sander. “Meanwhile, the trucks are still running through town.”  Go to earlier frac sand update

Fine for Pelican Slaughter

St. Paul — A southern Minnesota farmer was fined $12,500 and sentenced to 100 hours of community service and two years probation for his slaughter of white pelicans last May.

Craig Louis Staloch destroyed hundreds of white pelicans, hundreds of eggs and about 1,000 nests on his rented farmland, after he was told that the birds were protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and had to be left alone. When Minnesota Department of Natural Resources personnel arrived the next day to count the birds, they found most of the eggs in the nests had been smashed and countless chicks were dead.

It was deemed one of the largest illegal takes of migratory birds in the United States and the most serious violation ever to have occurred in Minnesota. (Minnesota Public Radio, 2-27-12)

Youth Photography Contest - Hurry, deadline is June 15

Winona, Minn. — What do kids find interesting to photograph on the river? Give them cameras and we’ll all find out.

The Friends of the Refuge Headwaters is sponsoring a photography contest for youth up to and including 18-year-olds. Photos will be judged on three criteria: capturing the spirit of nature, quality of the photograph and beauty. Entries will be accepted from April 1 through June 15, 2012.

Cameras are available for loan from park ranger Ed Lagace, 507-494-6236. For more information and an entry form, see the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service website.

Missouri Rumble

The annual Great River Rumble paddling trip, which has traversed many sections of the Mississippi, will launch into the Missouri River this year, from July 28 to August 4. The group will paddle 146 miles from Jefferson City, Mo., to Hartford, Ill., at the confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers.

The Rumble had planned the Missouri trip last summer, but it was postponed because of high water.

Eagle Tracking

Wabasha, Minn. — Researchers trapped, measured, banded, satellite-tagged and released a 14-pound female golden eagle near Waupaca, Wis., in February. Golden Eagle Project coordinators Scott Mehus, of the National Eagle Center, and Mark Martell, of Audubon Minnesota, are tracking “Golden Eagle 45,” aka “Jeanette,” as she flies north to her nesting grounds after wintering in north-central Wisconsin. Identifying those breeding grounds is the object of the research.

Upon release, Jeanette flew north and by mid-March was hanging around north of Lake Winnipeg, in northwest Manitoba.

“She is moving around during the day and using different evening roosts, so I have no concern that anything has happened to her,” commented one researcher on the Golden Eagle Project website.

You can watch Jeanette and the other three satellite-tagged eagles — Whitey, Fairchild and H’da Wah-pe — as they move north, on the Golden Eagle Project website.

Wetland Plants Online

The third, and newest, edition of one of the best books about wetland plants covers twice as many species and is available free online.

The online edition of Wetland Plants and Plant Communities of Minnesota and Wisconsin by Steve D. Eggers and Donald M. Reed is available at the bottom of the Environment page on the Army Corps of Engineers’ St. Paul District website. The new edition covers 300 plant species organized into 15 wetland plant communities. The book is published by the Corps and contains 600 photographs. It covers most of the wetland plants you are likely to find on the Upper Mississippi River and the Great Lakes region.

A hardcopy version of the third edition is not available, because of Corps spending constraints. The second edition, which covers 144 plant species, is still available in hardcopy for $11.00, plus shipping, on the same Corps web page. It was published in 1997.

To read more Mississippi River news and stories, order this issue or find Big River at one of these retail outlets.


News From March-April 2012 Big River

Saving Lake Pepin

UPDATE: You now have until May 27th to send your opinions on the cleanup plans to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.

The big lake on the Upper Mississippi is plagued by sediment and pollution. Researchers warn that in a century its upper reaches may silt up. Meanwhile, pollution impairs its waters and harms fishing.

So who should do what? Federal, state and local officials as well as other citizens have been working on it under the Clean Water Act of 1972.

The Draft Minnesota River TMDL report (pdf, 248 pages) and Draft South Metro Mississippi River TMDL (pdf, 136 pages) were released on Feb. 27 by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (PCA). The latter report addresses total suspended solids in the Mississippi, from its confluence with the Minnesota River at Fort Snelling to upper Lake Pepin at Red Wing. The PCA will accept public comments on these for 60 days.

MPCA information and link pages:

TMDL Project: Minnesota River - Turbidity

South Metro Mississippi TMDL Turbitity Impairment

The public notice for the draft Minnesota River Turbidity TMDL is posted on the MPCA Public Notice webpage. Also on public notice is the draft South Metro Mississippi River TMDL, which addresses total suspended solids in the Mississippi, from its confluence with the Minnesota River at Fort Snelling to upper Lake Pepin at Red Wing.

More information on the state's impaired waters list and TMDL studies is available on the MPCA’s Impaired Waters and TMDLs webpage or toll-free at 800-657-3864.

If comments convince the PCA to change the proposed guidelines, it will re-post the document for further comment.

Once the PCA is satisfied, it will submit the document to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which administers the Clean Water Act. The EPA will then decide whether to approve them as regulations. Regulations would be enforced starting a year later.

So far, local-government officials haven’t liked what they have seen in the proposal. They complain that local authorities may have to take cleanup steps without state or federal funding. This would require upgrading wastewater-treatment plants, building rain gardens and installing porous pavement so precipitation sinks into the ground rather than running into storm sewers, streams and rivers.

Cost estimates range up to $873 million. With more than 200 local governments affected, the average cost would be about $4 million per town. Smaller communities would pay less, but larger municipalities, such as St. Paul with 26 miles of riverfront on both banks, would likely pay far more. Meanwhile, local governments are already hard-pressed to balance budgets, and raising taxes is as difficult as ever.

Local governments point out that point sources, such as wastewater treatment plants, account for scarcely 1 percent of the problems with Lake Pepin. The bulk of the runoff comes from nonpoint sources, especially from cropland.

The cost to local governments represents “a staggering amount of money to achieve a minuscule load reduction relative to the total load reduction to the lake,” the St. Paul Pioneer Press (12-1-11) quoted a Minnesota Cities Stormwater Coalition representative as saying.

Yet farmers up and down the ­Minnesota River don’t want to take all the responsibility for cleaning up Pepin, and gaining their political support for such an effort is difficult, if not impossible.

Some farmers along the much-maligned Minnesota have already altered tilling practices, putting in terraces and planting buffer strips to limit erosion and runoff that reaches the Minnesota and ultimately the Mississippi. Even so, other fields remain thoroughly tiled, which speeds runoff of soil and pollutants.

Researchers have found that two-thirds of the runoff harming Lake Pepin is from bluffs and riverbanks, not cropland. However, erosion from bluffs and riverbanks increases when water rapidly runs off tiled and ditched fields. Another reason for faster silting may be the predominance of soybeans in the Minnesota River watershed. Soybeans absorb less moisture than hay and other vegetation that soybeans replaced beginning in about 1940 — sending more water into streams.

Lake Pepin was formed by the river backing up behind a natural dam of sand from Wisconsin’s Chippewa River. Lake Pepin stretches more than 20 miles and is more than a mile and a half wide in places, with a mean depth of 18 feet. The lake remains popular with boaters, anglers and other river lovers.

A lot of people have been waiting to see the proposed guidelines. “Rightly so, and I am too,” said Robert Finley, a Minnesota PCA watershed manager based in Mankato, Minn., a city at the big bend of the Minnesota River. “It will give us direction and targets to shoot for. I know a lot of people are anxious to get down to business.”

Among them, evidently, is U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, former governor of Iowa. Under an initiative announced in January by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Minnesota may become a test site for a program designed to limit farm pollution by encouraging farmers to conserve soil and curb runoff.

Participating farmers would agree to land-management practices that slow erosion and limit runoff of fertilizers, pesticides and manure. In exchange, farmers would get financial and technical support and exemption from new environmental requirements for up to 10 years. Funding would come under the 2012 farm bill.

Summer of Paddling

It’s useless to resist. A pack of agencies and groups is determined to get you out paddling on the Mississippi River this summer, otherwise known as the “Summer of Paddling 2012.”

Folks at the national wildlife refuges, national parks, Army Corps of Engineers recreation areas and state parks will be organizing and publicizing paddling events all summer. Watch their websites for updates. Facebook

New River Charts

The new 2011 Upper Mississippi River Navigation Charts are now available for purchase, showing channels, sloughs, hazardous areas, bridges and more from Minneapolis to Cairo, Ill. Pick them up for $30 at the Mississippi River Visitor Center on Arsenal Island in Rock Island, Ill., download them for free from the internet or order by phone with a credit card.

The Big Boats Return

• Two big sternwheelers are scheduled to cruise the Mississippi River this summer, the first time since 2008. The American Queen, the largest steamboat ever built, has been reincarnated under new owners, the Great American Steamboat Company, which includes many people from the old Delta Queen Steamboat Co. It is offering overnight trips on the Lower Mississippi and Ohio rivers starting in April. On the Upper Mississippi we’ll have to wait until September to see the big Victorian fancy-pants gracing our stretch of the river again

On eight fall-color cruises between St. Louis and St. Paul through early November, the American Queen will stop at Davenport, Iowa; Dubuque, Iowa; La Crosse, Wis.; and Red Wing, Minn. A three-night round trip between St. Paul and Lake Pepin and two rail-cruise tours are also planned for fall.

• Meanwhile, American Cruise Lines will show off its new Queen of the Mississippi in August and come upriver in September. The 150-passenger (non-steam) hydraulically driven sternwheeler will leave St. Louis on September 1 and arrive at St. Paul September 8, then return to St Louis.

Seven diesel engines will propel the ship 50 percent faster than the American Queen. QOM’s top speed will be about 13 miles per hour vs. about 8 mph for the AQ. (Cruise Critic, 12-6-11)

Go to Previous River News (January-February 2012)