Big River Magazine
Mississippi River stories and news

May-June 2013

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From May-June 2013 Big River

Need a Bridge?

Sabula, Iowa — The Illinois Department of Transportation (DOT) is offering the Sabula-Savanna Mississippi River bridge to the public — free of charge. The 1932 bridge is on the National Register of Historic Places and can’t be demolished before it’s offered to the public. The DOT will pay moving costs up to the cost of tearing down the bridge.

The historic, 2,468 foot-long structure will become available when the new, $70 million bridge is open to traffic between Sabula, Iowa, and Savanna, Ill. The new, wider bridge will be built about 100 feet south of the existing bridge. Construction is expected to begin in 2015 and take two years.

There are some restrictions to the free offer. The 81-year-old bridge must be kept “in its historical significance in perpetuity,” so no modifications will be allowed. The Illinois DOT has to approve the bridge’s new location and how it will be moved. And the old bridge has to be moved within 30 days of the opening of the new bridge, because the U.S. Coast Guard wants the old concrete piers in the river removed as soon as possible.

Those interested in the free bridge can email a letter of intent to Mark Nardini, acting Environmental Studies manager with the Illinois DOT District 2, at or call him at 815-284-2271. (Dubuque Telegraph Herald, 2-8-13)

Carried Away

Tributaries to the Mississippi River are flowing faster and heavier than they were decades ago, sending millions of tons of dirt and chemical pollution to the river. The cause is the accelerated conversion of grassland to cropland in Iowa, Minnesota, North and South Dakota, and Nebraska, to meet the demand for biofuel, and the increased use of agricultural tiling and ditches. The study “Recent land use change in the Western Corn Belt threatens grasslands and wetlands,” by Christopher Wright and Michael Wimberly at South Dakota State University, was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, March 5, 2013.

In North and South Dakota east of the Missouri River, croplands have been expanding westward, even into lands with a high risk of drought. Federal crop insurance and disaster relief programs mitigate the risk, creating incentives for conversion. In southern Minnesota and northern Iowa, crop production has expanded onto lands that are more erodible with shallower soils. The effect is to push sediment into wetlands, which limits their effectiveness as duck feeding and breeding grounds, and also limits their ability to hold water to buffer both floods and drought.

The 1.0 to 5.4 percent annual rate of conversion of grasslands to corn and soybean fields across a wide swath of the Corn Belt is comparable to rates of deforestation in Brazil, Malaysia and Indonesia. Nothing of this magnitude has happened in the United States since the 1920s and 1930s.

In other research by Shawn Schottler and others, at the St. Croix Watershed Research Station, agricultural tiling was shown to have a greater impact on the flow of streams and rivers than either crop conversion or increased precipitation. “Twentieth century agricultural drainage creates more erosive rivers” was published in Hydrological Processes, January 2013.

Researchers examined 21 agricultural watersheds and found that tiling was related to increased flows and to widening and eroding of stream beds. For example, the Blue Earth River, which flows into the Minnesota River, is 50 percent wider along its entire length than it was 70 years ago. Increased flow and erosion carries more silt downstream. In Lake Pepin on the Mississippi River, siltation has increased tenfold since the beginning of modern agriculture. (Outdoor News, 4-5-13)

Fox-Wisconsin Parkway

Kimberly, Wis. — The Interpretive Master Plan for the Fox-Wisconsin Heritage Parkway, a 280-mile river corridor that runs through 40 communities and 15 counties from Green Bay to the Mississippi River, is ready for public viewing and input. The plan, developed by Interpretive Solutions over a period of 18 months, offers an overview of the parkway and includes a vision for accessible canoe and kayak launches, tourism kiosks, renovated lock-tender houses and a water trail.

The two rivers and portage between them formed an important route between Lake Michigan and the Mississippi for many centuries.

The project was first conceptualized in 1989 to “preserve, promote and celebrate the heritage” of the Fox and Lower Wisconsin rivers from the historic days of the Native Americans to the era of fur traders, miners, loggers and paper makers. By 1990, the Fox-Wisconsin Heritage Parkway had become a tourism pilot project. In 2011, Interpretive Solutions was hired to come up with a master plan. The Parkway’s Interpretive Master Plan and a form for public feedback can be found online.

River Award

Dubuque, IowaIowa Rivers Revival, an advocacy group committed to preserving and improving Iowa’s 30,000 miles of rivers and streams, presented Dubuque with its 2013 River City of the Year award. The organization praised Dubuque’s efforts at reconnecting with the Mississippi River.

Dubuque highlighted many river and water quality projects in its application for the award. Recent city projects include turning 90 acres of brownfield into the Port of Dubuque, constructing the riverwalk and trail system, the Dubuque Water Trail for paddlers, the Bee Branch Creek Restoration Project, Catfish Creek watershed management, the Green Alley permeable pavement projects, the rebuilt Water & Resource Recovery Center and the IBM Smarter Water partnership, which enables homeowners to track water usage online.(Dubuque Telegraph Herald, 1 –31-13)


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

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