Big River Magazine
Mississippi River stories and news

River News
From September-October 2009 Big River Magazine

Mississippi Wine

After three years of process and procedure, the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) has declared the Upper Mississippi River Valley to be a new American Viticultural Area (AVA). The designation gives winemakers in the Upper Mississippi area a verified claim to uniqueness, much like Napa Valley and Sonoma. It also gives them the right to advertise this on wine labels, as long as at least 85 percent of the wine inside the bottle is from grapes grown in the area.

Applicants for an AVA must prove that the area is a specific region with distinctive geographical features (climates and microclimates, topography, soils, etc.).

The new Upper Mississippi River Valley AVA won the right to its name partly based on the existence of the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge, which “reflects the unique habitat of the Paleozoic Plateau,” according to the application. It covers the Driftless Area of northeast Iowa, southeast Minnesota, southwest Wisconsin and northwest Illinois, which shares a topography of limestone bluffs, hills and valleys.

River-bordering counties in the new AVA are: Dakota, Houston, Wabasha, Washington and Winona, in Minnesota; Buffalo, Crawford, Grant, La Crosse, Pepin, Pierce, Trempealeau and Vernon, in Wisconsin; Carroll, Jo Davies, Lee, Rock Island and Whiteside, in Illinois; Allamakee, Clayton, Clinton, Dubuque and Scott, in Iowa.

If you want to know exactly what makes the Upper Mississippi River Valley distinctive, the application filed with the ATF contains an admirable historical, geological, geographical and cultural synopsis.

Better yet, take a harvest season road trip and visit some of the wineries along the river on the new Great River Road Wine Trail.

Look Up

Davenport, Iowa — Three new glass-roofed buses will tour the riverfront of the Quad Cities on weekends beginning in late summer. The 30-passenger, low-emission, 1950s-style buses will transport people on a 14-mile route, called “The Loop,” along River Drive from Bettendorf, Iowa, to Davenport; across the Centennial Bridge to Rock Island, Ill.; then to Moline; and back across the I-74 bridge to Bettendorf.

The buses will run every 20 minutes. The fare is $1. For more information see the Quad Cities Convention & Visitors Bureau website.

Fish for Dinner

St. Paul — Minnesota has found higher-than-normal levels of PFCs in human blood samples from people living near the Mississippi River.

Presence of the chemical may be from drinking well water or eating fish or both, but the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) says its guidance on fish consumption remains the same.

PFCs, or perfluorochemicals, were detected in drinking water in the St. Paul suburbs of Lake Elmo and Oakdale in 2004. In sufficient amounts, the chemicals cause cancer, thyroid problems and birth defects in lab rats.

3M Inc. made those chemicals from the late 1940s until 2002 for use in its Scotchgard waterproofing spray. The company, based in suburban Maplewood, Minn., has spent nearly $15 million on efforts to clean up groundwater at nearby Cottage Grove, Minn., and to provide alternative water supplies.

For Minnesota’s study, health scientists interviewed and obtained blood samples from 196 randomly selected adult participants, and measured the levels of seven perfluorochemicals in their blood. Half the participants’ homes drew water from private wells in Lake Elmo and Cottage Grove and half from the Oakdale municipal water system. For residents with private wells to participate, their wells had to have at least trace levels of the chemicals.

Tainted groundwater finds its way into the river and may affect the fish warning list issued by the MDH. Yet it says it hasn’t altered its list. See its website for more detail.

Minnesota’s Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) is “very active” in looking for PFCs in fish in Pool 2 (south Minneapolis to Hastings, Minn.), said Paul Hoff, supervisor of the environmental reporting and special studies unit. His advice? “Keep paying attention.”

Hoff said 30 MPCA staff members took a vacation day at the end of May to go fishing on the Mississippi near Red Wing. They “caught enough fish for a good meal to eat, and they enjoyed every one of them,” said Hoff.

The MPCA may have more results in October as it tests pools 3 and 4. “In the meantime,” said Hoff, “people should enjoy the river. Live on it. Care about it. Look at the fish consumption advisory.”

Tire Island Hits the Road

La Crosse, Wis. — In the early 1980s, land managers with the Fish and Wildlife Service and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources devised a plan to reduce damage to river ecosystems from wind and waves. Using materials readily available, they built an 800-foot-long floating island of tires and anchored it to the river bottom. That technique had been used to rebuild ocean reefs. The tire island acted as a barrier to waves for a while, but eventually storm winds tore the island loose, and it sunk to the bottom of the river, where it has remained.

“That was an attempt, but now it’s in the way,” said Jim Nissen, manager of the La Crosse District of the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge.

This summer, contractors were scheduled to remove the old tires from the river bottom to prepare for a new wave of island building in the lower end of Pool 8. They don’t want to build right on top of them, for fear the construction would dislodge them, sending waterlogged tires all over the lower end of the pool.

The tires will be too dirty with sediment and zebra mussels to recycle, and will be disposed of at a hazardous-waste site.

Two new islands are being built this summer, part of a complex of four upstream of “tire island.” Island C2, a large island, and C4 will be finished this summer. Next year work begins on C5 and C3.

Island building techniques have evolved beyond tires. “Seed islands” begin as rock fill placed perpendicular to the flow, so it captures the sand to grow a new island.

“We’ve had them in Pool 8 since fall of 1995,” said Nissen. “We’ve done four, three of which were nourished with imported sand.”k base with a log structure on top, then a cap of rock on top of that. It effectively breaks up wave action and stops wind fetch.

Nissen knows of no other tire islands in the Upper Mississippi, “but in the ocean, tire reefs have broken apart and created a big mess,” he said.

To read more news stories, order this issue or check out one of these retail outlets.