Our speakers are ardent and knowledgeable people who know hydrology and are passionate about the rugged terrain and wild waters of the Driftless area. Here's the agenda for the webinar. We'll start with the basics - how groundwater works, interconnections to surface water, land use impacts and drinking water impairment. Jeff Broberg will lead us through this with humor and grace. Jeff's home in rural Winona doesn't have a safe water supply, so he has a personal stake in the water quality of the area.
Then we'll spend an hour looking at two examples of watersheds - one in Minnesota and one in Iowa. The WinLac watershed in Minnesota surrounds the cities of Winona and La Crescent, along the Mississippi. The uplands of this watershed are in the Karst bluffs and land use has heavily impacted drinking water quality. Paul Wotzka will describe the impacts we see in this small watershed, including the impacts of row crop and animal agriculture. When land use changes, water quality improves. How does that work? Paul will share how his land practices have improved the water at his home. Click here to learn more about Paul's watershed work.
The second watershed we'll look at is Bloody Run in northeastern Iowa - read more about Bloody Run at this link. Larry Stone is part of the Save Bloody Run movement, and he'll bring an update on where this case is in the courts and on the ground. We'll wrap up the webinar with a lively question and answer session led by LWV UMRR Chair Mary Ellen Miller.
You must register to attend this webinar. Click here to register - you will be sent a link right away and also the day before the event, April 2.
News articles for deeper background: :
The Upper Mississippi Wildlife and Fish Refuge - Virtual Tour and Project Update
Zoom or in person event, sponsored by the Izaak Walton League of Minnesota
January 27 at 6:30 pm
The in-person event will be held at the IWLA Minnesota Valley Chapter House
6601 Auto Club Road - Bloomington, MN
Creation of the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge (Refuge) was largely the result of the Izaak Walton League, and in particular, the efforts of its founder and leader, Will Dilg. Dilg's vision became a reality on June 7, 1924 when Congress passed the Act establishing the Refuge. Today the Refuge begins near Wabasha, MN and extends downstream for 261 miles ending near the Quad Cities of Iowa and Illinois. In this meeting, participants will take a journey around the Refuge highlighting recent efforts in MN that perpetuate Dilg's vision.
Clean Water for All (CWfA) is a national non-profit organization started in 2016 to meet the need for a single, comprehensive coalition that advocates for national clean water protections, which in turn benefit watersheds across the country. LWV UMRR participates in CWfA in two ways - as a member of the Mississippi River Network, which is in turn a member of CWfA, and through the individual participation of LWV UMRR Secretary Tamara Prenosil.
CWfA is a national network that brings together organizations to build and utilize collective power to advance equitable policies that increase access, affordability, and strong protections of clean water across the nation. They envision every community having safe and affordable clean water that supports thriving communities, healthy ecosystems, cultural resources, and wildlife. Their work focuses in three issue areas: federal policy, infrastructure and agricultural pollution. Equity and Climate are integral to all three areas.
The LWV UMRR blog is going to focus on groundwater for the next few months. This month we have two posts on the transfer of groundwater from state to state and country to country through bottled beverages and agricultural products. In "Exporting Water from the Mississippi - one 0.5liter Bottle at a Time", we take a look at the efforts of Niagara Bottling to site water bottling facilities in Minnesota and Wisconsin. This California company is seeking to expand in areas where cities will use their water supplies to encourage economic growth - the catch is that municipal water supplies are rated a higher priority than industrial uses, so an industrial use of municipal water takes advantage of a loophole in the system. The second post, "Groundwater is moving across the world in products" looks at the use of Arizona groundwater to raise alfalfa for dairy herds in Saudi Arabia. Arizona passed an act requiring the big cities to manage groundwater sustainably, but that law does not apply outside these major population centers... another loophole being exploited to access water.
Minnesota also passed a Ground Water Protection Act, back in 1989. The Minnesota Ground Water Association charged a team with developing a white paper that looks at implementation of the Act in the past 30 years, and then looks ahead to what more needs to be done. (You can view a video on this Act and White Paper at this link.) One issue that stands out through all of these is the movement of water from one state, or one country, to another. Without clear policies to govern sharing (and not sharing) of water, there will be piecemeal protections and continuing over-withdrawals.
There's a whole more ways that water moves in products. Bottled beverages, dairy products, agricultural products and much more. In November, CNN posted an article on how groundwater in Arizona (yes, super-dry Arizona) is being used to grow alfalfa that is shipped to Saudi Arabia (where the use of groundwater for agricultural products has been prohibited) to feed cattle for Saudi dairy products.
Dropping groundwater levels are not just a problem of water supply for residents; cities are impacted, too, threatening the water supply of thousands. And when aquifers drop, the ground surface compacts, resulting in land subsidence. And changes in land use have resulted in other problems; the CNN article documents floods of silt that have impacted local homes due to changes in runoff patterns.
Arizona passed a law back in 1980, the Arizona Groundwater Protection Act, that established "Active Management Areas" around Phoenix, Tucson and other high-growth areas, but does not address agricultural use of groundwater. (This article on the Arizona Municipal Water Users Association blog describe the Act and provides background on why it was passed.) Foreign interests are exploiting the lack of protection for the resource and are 'mining' the resource to move groundwater, as products, from this very thirsty region.
We should take time to think about this... it's easier to feel outrage about Arizona water feeding Saudi cows than it is about Midwestern schoolkids eating Arizona citrus. But we are all part of the problem... and we all need to be part of developing and implementing smart laws and effective protection measures to protect our water resources.
Exporting water from the Mississippi River Basin, one .5liter bottle at a time...
There's a lot of water in Minnesota. With extensive resources of both groundwater and surface water, this is becoming a draw for water-intensive industries. The current proposal that's in the news is a water bottling plant that is proposing to use municipal water from the City of Elko New Market (locals call it ENM). The company proposing the plant is California-based Niagara Bottling.
This plant would be located in a newly-approved industrial park being built along Interstate 35 in Scott County, on the south edge of the Twin Cities Metro area. The City of ENM draws it's water from wells finished in the Jordan Aquifer, a major water supply aquifer for many other cities in the area. Springs from this aquifer form the headwaters of the near-by Vermillion River, a tributary to the Mississippi.
Residents have raised concerns about the project, citing noise, traffic and well interference. They are fighting the project through social media, demonstrations and advocacy in various ways. This blog post will focus on the issues of water use increase and water export, not the other local issues of concern. The City of ENM held a public meeting on the project - there were so many testifiers at the meeting that it was held over from December 15 to December 20. This story on KARE11 provides a good update on this process. Here's the link to view the recorded City Council meetings that include these hearings.
Water appropriations in Minnesota are regulated by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources,this page on the DNR website provides statutory reference and information on how it works. In this case, expansion of the amount allowed to be withdrawn from the Jordan by the City of ENM requires modification of the city's appropriation permit. DNR staff has confirmed that DNR has received a permit amendment request from the City, and advised the City that they must first update their Water Supply Plan if they want to increase water usage related to a bottling plant. This plan will identify what measures will be implemented in case of a water crisis in order to maintain aquifer levels, and reduce potential well interference and water use conflicts.
Once the Water Supply Plan is updated, DNR and the Metropolitan Council (a coordinative body of government responsible for planning in the Twin Cities) will evaluate the plan for sustainability and environmental impacts. If the proposed project does not meet state sustainability standards, DNR will not authorize the increase in water appropriation. Conversely, if the proposal meets the standards, the expansion of the city's appropriation permit will be allowed. The author of this post has requested more information on what standards DNR will specifically apply, but no answer was received as of noon on December 19.
The concerned citizens in ENM also have filed a request for specific environmental review of the project. They filed a petition with the Minnesota Environmental Quality Board with 400 signatures requesting that an Environmental Review Worksheet for the project. The EQB approved the petition and assigned the EAW preparation to DNR; this will move forward in a separate process. This type of project has been seen elsewhere, where water-intensive industries plan to use municipal water supplies to supply water for their projects.
Niagara will be opening a new plant in Baltimore County, Maryland in the spring of 2023. The city's 'robust water supply' was listed as a reason this location was chosen - read more here in an April 2022 press release from the Governor of Maryland. Niagara had also proposed a similar plant in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, which fell through earlier this year amid local opposition. Here's a link to a Wisconsin Public Radio story on the project. There, Niagara pulled the proposal before the Eau Claire City Council could vote, but WQOQ News 18 reports the plans could be resubmitted.
The interstate transfer of water, and inter-basin transfer of water, is an area that needs more policy work. One example is a project where a Rural Water system in northwestern Iowa draws water that's 'sold' to users in the surrounding four-state area. This article in the Iowa Capitol Dispatch shows the impacts that water withdrawals have had on the Ocheyedan River, which has now run dry four out of the last seven years. The water is being pumped from shallow aquifers by the Osceola County Rural Water System, which sells water to the Lincoln-Pipestone Rural Water system used largely by southwestern Minnesotans. (This is not the only source of water used by Lincoln-Pipestone.) According to the Iowa Capitol Dispatch article, the Osceola County Rural Water System has a deadline of March 31, 2023, to submit a plan to potentially reduce its pumping rates when river levels are low. If it doesn’t, “the DNR may unilaterally proceed with other actions to protect the use of the water supply,” according to the letter the department sent to the utility in November.
We will continue to report on progress of this project on this blog. Here's a link to a recent on-line news report about the controversy. This news story on the local Twin Cities Fox affiliate provides a video:
By Chloe Johnson, Minneapolis Star Tribune; Erin Jordan, The Gazette; Sarah Bowman, Indianapolis Star
Published October 13, 2022 at 4:00 AM CDT
This article is re-published here with permission from the Mississippi River Basin Ag & Water Desk at the University of Missouri. The full article can be accessed at this link.
Farmers are dealing with more and heavier rainfall events throughout the Upper Midwest. Some farmers install drainage tiles and trenches to handle the water, but that can lead to soil erosion and flooding downstream. Corn was just starting to tassel across much of the Midwest, including fields in southern Indiana, a golden crown signaling the end of the season. But while most farmers were preparing for harvest, Ray McCormick was climbing back into his tractor to re-drill his soybeans. The southwest Indiana farmer had to drill soybeans in August – for a second time last year, having already lost his spring-planted corn crop – after yet another heavy rain flooded his river-bottom field.
“My dad used to say that after July 10, ‘You’re kidding yourself trying to plant,’” said McCormick, who was trying to produce a crop for the landlords who own these fields. McCormick’s delayed planting is one example of how a changing climate – and the rains that come with it – are transforming farm country in the Mississippi River watershed.
A hotter atmosphere is causing rain to fall in harder bursts, pushing back planting seasons and drowning crops. At the same time as human-driven climate change is juicing precipitation, Corn Belt farming practices such as installing underground drainage tiles and leaving fields bare after harvest are changing how water moves across the landscape and into waterways. That runoff eventually makes its way south, carrying sediment as well as pollution that contributes to the hypoxic, or oxygen-free, “dead zone” in the Gulf of Mexico. “There is no part of the water cycle we haven’t altered,” said Carrie Jennings, research and policy director with the Minnesota nonprofit advocacy group Freshwater.
In Minnesota, flows in the Mississippi River rose 24% in seven decades, according to a 2016 report. Flows have doubled in the Minnesota River, which carries sediment and pollution from the state’s southern farm country into the Mississippi, according to a 2017 study from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. In Indiana, along the Wabash River just upstream from McCormick, flows have increased by at least a third in the last century, according to a report from the Purdue Climate Change Impacts Center. More than 100 U.S. Geological Service stations in Indiana show increased streamflow over the past 30 years.
Similar trends of heavier rains and increased flows can be seen across the Midwest region.
All that water has to go somewhere. With a changing climate, the farms of the future will look different, experts say. How communities adapt will determine what kind of farming they can do. “This rain isn’t going away,” said Jennifer Kanine, the director of natural resources for the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi, which has worked to restore wetlands in northwest Indiana’s agricultural areas. “We need to start working with it instead of fighting it,” she continued. “We need to ask, how can we best manage all this water, because we’ve compromised the system so much already.”
Want to read more about erosion-caused mayhem along the Minnesota? Read the full article at this link. This story is part of When It Rains, a special series from the Mississippi River Basin Ag & Water Desk. Next month, LWV UMRR blog will re-publish the third article in this series - To Stay or To Go: Increased Flooding Forces Towns to make Hard Choices.
Mayor Mitch Reynolds on River Issues in La Crosse, and what's going on with the SMRT Act
On December 5 at 1pm, Mayor Mitch Reynolds spoke about how his city is working to mitigate these problems both as an individual city and as part of the Mississippi River City and Township Initiative (MRCTI). He also provided an update about a bill now working through Congress - the SMRT Act - that can help cities dealing with these problems.
The SMRT Act is formally the "Andrew Young Saving our Mississippi River Together" Act. At the LWV UMRR Annual Meeting, MRCTI's Brandt Thorington provided background and information on the SMRT Act. You can see the video of Brandt's talk at this link, starting at the 24.34 point.
And... here's a link to an article about how Illinois groups are urging development of a plan for navigation on the river during extreme low-flow conditions. Mayor Reynolds refers to this work in his talk.
Some info on Mayor Reynolds:
Mitch Reynolds took office as mayor of the City of La Crosse in April of 2021. This is the first elected office he has held and he was actively engaged in taking on homelessness, developing a strategy for more affordable housing, working on the PFAS contamination issue on French Island and taking part in a forward thinking public works project - building a new state of the art waste water treatment plant.
Prior to becoming mayor, Mitch was the Operations Manager for Madison-based Whole Trees, LLC and spent 16 years as a radio journalist in La Crosse at Midwest Family Broadcasting before that. He has also worked as an arborist, a bartender, a room service waiter, a crab fisherman, and a piano mover, among many other occupations.
Mitch originally hails from Michigan and spent many years in south Louisiana before moving to Wisconsin and settling in La Crosse in 1994 where he has lived since. He acquire a degree in History from UW-La Crosse and an MBA from Viterbo University. Mitch is married with two adult children and a granddaughter who all live in the community.
Mitch is also a member of Mississippi River Cities and Towns Initiative (MRCTI), a coalition of more than 100 municipalities along the river. It is an association of Mayors along the Mississippi River and its tributaries and businesses. Mitch will share some of the highlights of the association and bring us up-to-date with the progress of the Safeguarding the Mississippi River Together (SMRT) Act.
*Source: U of W Extension brochure: https://fyi.extension.wisc.edu/climate/files/2014/03/La-Crosse-Climate-Change-brochure7-16-12.pdf
Minnesota's 1989 Ground Water Protection Act: Legacy and Future Directions - Webinar Nov 9, noon
The 1989 Ground Water Protection Act was a major accomplishment, as important to Minnesota water resources as the federal Clean Water Act was back in 1972. In fact, this Act went further than the Clean Water Act because it addressed protection and remediation of ground water, which at that time was the poor step child of water programs. The GWPA was nationally recognized and changed the face of groundwater management in Minnesota forever.
Thirty-three years later, what has changed? The Minnesota Ground Water Association commissioned a team of writers to develop a White Paper that looks at what the GWPA established and required, how the GWPA was implemented and where gaps remain, or where gaps have developed in the ensuing years. The White Paper is now complete, and in the video below, the team provides context for the White Paper by describing what the GWPA encompassed, how it's been implemented today, and where the White Paper finds opportunities for improving groundwater management.
Following is the Executive Summary of the White Paper:
Passing with broad bipartisan support, the 1989 Ground Water Protection Act established a framework for protecting Minnesota’s groundwater based on a comprehensive approach designed to prevent degradation of groundwater quantity and quality.
Much has changed in over thirty years since passage of this landmark environmental legislation. Groundwater demand has grown. Technology to detect and measure groundwater contaminants has improved, making clear that activities on the land surface affect groundwater quality. The effects of climate change on groundwater quantity and quality are becoming evident. Minnesota Statutes evolved since 1989 to place greater emphasis on groundwater stewardship by formalizing a definition of water sustainability. Funding mechanisms have changed such that funding shortages for important groundwater projects can be expected if the Clean Water Land & Legacy Amendment is not extended beyond the sunset date of 2034.
The existing and expected changes in water demand, technology and surveillance, climate, statute, and funding make groundwater protection in the 21st century more critical than ever. These factors trigger the need for this Minnesota Ground Water Association White Paper. Through the lens of groundwater sustainability, this White Paper advances a conversation about needed priority policy and management actions, beyond those outlined in the Ground Water Protection Act of 1989. The priority actions are summarized in three main categories:
Ensured Stable Funding: Funding for critical groundwater activities must itself be sustainable for groundwater sustainability to be achieved. The Clean Water, Land & Legacy Amendment sunsets in 2034, creating a potential funding gap for critical groundwater activities.
Groundwater Sustainability: Minnesota contains a large volume of groundwater, yet groundwater sustainability is not assured. Sustainable groundwater management should be based upon water budgets, where thresholds leading to unacceptable effects are understood, including those related to recharge, discharge, storage, aquatic habitats, and ecological conditions in streams. Minnesota Department of Natural Resources defined groundwater sustainability in statute; this definition could be made more useful through adoption of operational or practical definitions. Specific priority actions to promote groundwater sustainability include:
Water Governance: Recurring proposals to change the structure of Minnesota’s water governance may impede progress toward groundwater sustainability. Proactively meeting these concerns may prevent the creation of unnecessary obstacles to groundwater sustainability efforts.
The priority actions discussed above are opportunities to continue the work that originated from the Act, and address issues, ideas and approaches that have arisen in the meantime. Those invested in Minnesota’s groundwater resource should continue to unify policy and management efforts around the central unifying theme of groundwater sustainability. Sustained funding for activities described in this White Paper, and a unified approach to water governance will both be critical to achieving and maintaining groundwater sustainability. MGWA is an appropriate source of technical comment to amendment proposals if they go forward.
Thirty years after its passage, Minnesota groundwater professionals recognize the far-sighted impact that the Act has had on the management of Minnesota’s groundwater. Yet the Act has not accomplished everything intended. It did not address all critical risks to groundwater quantity or quality, nor did it provide a complete strategy for protecting Minnesota’s groundwater. Minnesotans must continue to capture the critical measures to support the achievement of sustainable groundwater use and protection. One great accomplishment of the Act is that much of the work necessary for this next step is already done.
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