Big River Magazine
Mississippi River stories and news

River News
From July-August 2009 Big River Magazine

Nature Pix Wanted

Washington, D.C. — The National Wildlife Refuge Association is hosting its annual digital photo contest featuring the nation’s wildlife refuges. If you’ve taken great photos of the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge or any other refuge, submit them by July 15, 2009. First prize wins $5,000. Results will be announced in October 2009.

Friends of the Upper Mississippi River Refuges also have a photo contest - their deadline is Oct. 31, 2009.

Drier Beer?

Water managers in 13 states estimate they’ll be short of water by 2013, and they’re looking for creative solutions. Last year Georgia tried to move the state’s borders north a bit, so it could claim part of the Tennessee River. It was not successful. The small town of Orme, Tennessee, ran dry and now sends a fire truck to Alabama for water to fill the local water tank. Residents can turn on the tap three hours a day.

Some states are eyeing the Great Lakes. Others are eyeing the Mississippi River as a source of plentiful water.

A solution of a different sort may come through “water ­footprinting,” calculating the amount of water required to produce something, as a first step to identify ways to reduce water use. The tool was invented in 2002 by Arjen Hoekstra of the University of Twente in the Netherlands, who used United Nations data to gauge the amount of water that went into making various products. Some estimates find it takes about 20 gallons of water to make one pint of beer, 35 to make a single cup of coffee, 132 gallons to make a 2-liter bottle of soda pop and 500 to create a pair of stonewashed jeans.

Calculation methods vary. They may or may not include the agricultural and mining processes that provide the raw materials for products and packages.

In March 2009, the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, a group of 200 companies, released an updated online tool to help agencies and companies map water use and assess risks. Using this tool, SABMiller PLC, which makes beer on six continents, found that 30 of its factories, including those in South Africa, India and Peru, are very vulnerable to future water shortages. The company has set a goal of reducing the water it uses to make beer by 25 percent by 2015.

No Fish Ladder

Red Wing, Minn. — The embankment on the Wisconsin side below Lock and Dam 3, upstream from Red Wing, will be changed by a $70 million upgrade, scheduled to be complete in 2011. Anglers who are worried about their favorite fishing spots may still be able to find them, but an effort to get lovelorn fish upstream to spawn remains iffy.

“There’s going to be some changes down there,” affirmed Daniel Wilcox, a fisheries biologist and project manager for the planning phase of the upgrade. Construction could begin as early as December.

Lock and Dam 3, between the St. Croix River and Lake Pepin, is one of the busiest on the Mississippi River. The upgrade will extend a concrete wall to protect tows from a vicious current that has thrown barges against the dam 11 times since 1968. A bend in the Mississippi River there tends to sweep tows outward into the dam while they’re heading for the lock.

A controversial part of the project will strengthen the embankment on the Wisconsin side downstream from the dam. If a tow misses the lock and collides with the dam, it may jam the dam gates shut. In that event, the river might go over or around the dam and scour a channel that would drain Pool 3 upstream. This would impair navigation and, worst case, even shut down two electric power plants that draw water from the river, including the nuclear generators at Prairie Island.

That’s why the Corps of Engineers has proposed a stronger embankment. But the state of Wisconsin fears the Corps plan will destroy beloved fish havens. At present, the shore has fallen trees, woody debris and riprap — “lots of areas for fish to hang out,” said Dan Baumann, regional program manager for water with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

One of the many anglers who fishes the tail water below the dam is the Corps’ Wilcox, who notes walleye, saugers and other species in the area. The new Corps plan will preserve fish habitat, he said, making spillways more “sinuous” and sinking debris, such as trees, to serve as fish hideouts. The Corps will also restore 313 acres of agricultural fields with native plantings.

Ideas for a fish passage around Lock and Dam 3, however, haven’t made headway. A “fish ladder,” or series of pools and runs, on the Wisconsin side would allow fish to move upstream to spawn in favored areas, including the St. Croix River. Now, only strong swimmers, such as the five-foot-long lake sturgeon, may be able to fight through the current when dam gates are open during high water. Other species, such as suckers, can’t make it. If Congress can find $15 million, said Wilcox, the fish ladder can be built.

Meanwhile, work on an 860-foot guidewall to protect tows from the powerful current is scheduled to start in 2010 and must be complete by September 2011, under terms of the 2009 economic-stimulus legislation funding it.

World Class Wetlands

Two national wildlife refuges along the Upper Mississippi River have been named Ramsar Wetlands of International Importance. The designation includes about 298,000 acres of federal and state lands and waters, including all of the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge and Trempealeau National Wildlife Refuge. The Ramsar Convention is an intergovernmental treaty established in Ramsar, Iran, in 1971. It provides the framework for national action and international cooperation for the conservation and wise use of wetlands and their resources. Ramsar-listed wetlands are deemed to be significant not just to the countries they are in, but to humanity as a whole. So far, Ramsar’s website lists 1,843 wetland sites in 159 nations, totaling 180 million hectares.

The United States signed the Convention in 1987 and has listed 27 wetlands. Formal listing of the Upper Mississippi River and Trempealeau refuge wetlands is expected in 2010.

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