Big River Magazine
Mississippi River stories and news

May-June 2014

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From May-June 2014 Big River

Thanks, Anglers

Washington, D.C. — The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) will distribute about $1.1 billion to conservation and recreation projects across the country, Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell announced in late March. The funds come from fees and excise taxes paid by sportsmen and sports women.

“Anyone who enjoys our nation’s outdoor heritage should thank hunters, anglers, recreational boaters and target shooters,” said Dan Ashe, director of FWS.

Illinois will receive $22,626,138, Iowa will receive $15,633,542, Minnesota will receive $35,296,856 and Wisconsin $34,208,337. FWS Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration Program

Million Dollar Idea

New Orleans — Whoever comes up with the best solution to the problem of hypoxia in fragile coastal waters will win a million dollars in Tulane University’s Grand Challenge.

The university’s “Water Innovations: Reducing Hypoxia, Restoring Our Water” contest enlists entrepreneurs, researchers and inventors to combat an increasingly urgent problem. The award will be given to a “testable, scaled and marketable operating model that significantly, efficiently and cost-effectively reduces hypoxia,” according to the Tulane Grand Prize press release.

The challenge starts this year, when interested parties write letters of interest, and is expected to continue through 2019, as possible solutions are evaluated.

Icy Tows

Commercial shipping on the Mississippi River got off to a slow start after winter finally released its tenacious grip on the Upper Midwest. The river was completely frozen for the first time in several years. The Army Corps of Engineers measured more than 30 inches of blue ice (the hardest kind) near the base of Lake Pepin, two miles above Reads Landing, Minn., on Feb 27. The ice may have been thicker, but the Corps’ ice auger can only bore down 30 inches. On April 9, the total ice at the same spot had thinned to 22 inches.

Shippers prefer less than 20 inches, and towboats can easily break through 12 to 15 inches of ice.

The arrival of the first towboat in St. Paul is a celebrated sign of spring on the upper river. The average arrival date over the last 10 years is March 24, but by March 24 this year, towboats were still waiting in the Quad Cities. The first towboat finally reached St. Paul on April 16th.

The prolonged winter gave the Corps extra time for routine maintenance on locks and dams. (Army Corps; KTTC, 4-6-14; Winona Daily News, 3-26-14; Minneapolis Star Tribune, 2-28-14)

For the Birds

Appleton, Wis. — Fill your bird feeder and it’s empty in a day or two, but plant a black cherry, red mulberry, mountain ash, hawthorn or hackberry tree and the fruit will feed dozens of birds for weeks.

The website of the Wisconsin chapter of the nonprofit organization Wild Ones has lots of other suggestions for native trees, flowers and grasses that contribute to the well-being of wildlife, birds, butterflies and insects in the Driftless Area, as well as publications that can guide gardeners’ efforts to “heal the earth one yard at a time,” the organization’s motto.

Defining Other Waters

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Army Corps of Engineers have taken on the task to define what are the “waters of the United States” regarding the Clean Water Act.

A U.S. Supreme Court decision in 2006 introduced a lot of uncertainty, especially regarding “other waters.” The confusion arises mainly over wetlands not connected to a lake, river or stream year round, streams that dry up from time to time and wetlands that aren’t always wet.

The EPA and Corps has released a 370-page draft rule aimed at clear definitions of what is and is not considered one of the “waters of the United States.” Much of the sorting out regards how prospective “other waters” might affect a navigable river or other body of water that is clearly one of the “waters of the United States.” For instance, pollution in a wetland may travel underground and contaminate a nearby lake or river, or intermittent streams may make a significant contribution to a river’s flow.

The new rule will be used to determine whether federal agencies can apply the requirements of the Clean Water Act to a body of water. It is hoped that clearer rules will reduce arguments over wetlands, intermittent streams and other waters. The new rule leaves many specific exclusions unchanged, such as exclusions for agriculture and waste treatment systems.

Note: The proposed rule (Docket No. EPA-HQ-OW-2011-0880-0001) was published on April 21. The public has until July 21st to comment on it. Information about the proposed rule here with comment link.    Direct Comment link here.


Land Sale Questioned

Madison, Wis. — By June 2017, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) plans to offer 10,000 acres of land for sale in order to pay down debt associated with the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program.

The Wisconsin Legislature created the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program in 1989 to preserve valuable natural areas and wildlife habitat, protect water quality and fisheries, and expand opportunities for outdoor recreation. Conservation groups across the state that worked to get the lands protected are questioning the wisdom of the state’s move to sell some of it.

In February, the DNR initiated the first phase of the sale process, listing 33 parcels totaling 2,552 acres, including two 10-acre parcels in the Lower Wisconsin State Riverway. The DNR said it selected lands that were outside DNR project boundaries, that have difficult or no access, and limited recreational or natural resources value. Friends of the Lower Wisconsin State Riverway, a nonprofit advocacy organization, questions that, saying that the move would discourage people from donating land. The two Riverway parcels, they say, are too small to reap much gain for state coffers anyway.

After the DNR completes field reviews of all the lands, it will send a final list to the Natural Resources Board in May. The lands will be offered for sale in June. For a list of the chosen properties, see the DNR website. (Baraboo News Republic, 2-28-14; Eau Claire Leader Telegram, 2-27-14)

Zebra Plague

A bacterium that kills two invasive mussel species, apparently without harming other organisms, has been formulated into a product called Zequanox, which the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is evaluating for possible use on zebra mussels in open water.

The Pseudomonas fluorescens strain CL145A kills zebra mussels and quaga mussels, which have damaged property and ecosystems in rivers and lakes in 34 states.

Biologist Donald Molloy and a team of biologists at Cambridge Field Research Laboratory in upstate New York began testing bacteria many years ago in search of one that kills invasive mussels. In 1995, after testing 700 strains of bacteria, they found that dead cells from the Pseudomonas fluorescens strain CL145A contain a toxin that destroys zebra mussel digestive tracts. The invasive mussels accept the bacteria, although they quickly shut their valves when exposed to chlorine and other caustic chemicals.

CL145A has undergone many years of testing. In tests using water from Lake Carlos, in Minnesota, Zequanox killed more than 90 percent of the zebra mussels. In similar tests using water from Wisconsin’s Black River, the product left native freshwater mussels unharmed. (New York Times, 2-24-14) USGS


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