Sigh. As a multi-state organization with no office or physical footprint, LWV UMRR wrestled with the question of where to hold Board meetings. We eventually developed a model where we traveled around the Upper Mississippi watershed, working with our member Leagues in diverse areas to hold educational meetings on local water issues in conjunction with our Board meetings. This way UMRR Board members got to know League members around the watershed, and local Leagues got to know UMRR. Covid has changed all of that.
At the August 2 Board meeting, the Board adopted a plan to continue to hold virtual-only meetings through the end of 2020. We began to plan for what these virtual meetings would hold for our members, and came up with a plan to find speakers to support a local or statewide focus for each meeting. We may even have more educational meetings, since with out the need to physically travel we can do more. (Our usual schedule was a meeting every other month, on the first Monday of even-numbered months. This was a lot of fun, but took planning and a lot of time. Virtually, howver, we can do monthly virtual educational meetings, which would give us more opportunities to learn and share information about our watershed.)
Our October meeting will feature Dr. David Osterberg speaking on water issues in Iowa. We will have more detail on his talk in our September newsletter - watch for this coming soon!
David Osterberg, Founder, Researcher and Former Director
Energy & Environment, Economic Opportunity
David is a former Iowa state representative who was chairman of the House Energy and Environmental Protection Committee as well as the Agriculture Committee. David was the Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate in 1998 and worked for one year as a consultant to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. David holds an M.S. in water resources management and another in agricultural economics from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He is professor emeritus in the Department of Occupational and Environmental Health at the University of Iowa.
David co-founded the organization with Mark Smith, former president of the Iowa Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO, and served as executive director from IPP’s inception through June 2013. He is co-author of several IPP energy and environment reports. David speaks widely to explain the findings of IPP reports.
The climate crisis demands action even as the COVID-19 health emergency is upon us. LWV Dane County has provided two conversations on how the hydrology of Madison has been altered by development. Climate change has exacerbated the problems. The programs were called "Revenge of the Marshes - Preserving the Wetlands that Protect Us".
The first featured Kenneth Potter, water resource engineering and management expert and Professor Emeritus of Civil & Environmental Engineering at UW–Madison. Read more about Ken Potter. Dr. Potter explained the hydrology of the Madison area and how it's been altered. This was a very timely talk for Madison - the city was about to adopt a stormwater ordinance to being to address the problems. The stormwater management plan was adopted in early June after lengthy study. The Madison City Council unanimously approved new stormwater design rules that could raise costs for development but also help prevent a repeat of the devastating floods of 2018. According to an article in the Wisconsin State Journal, developers raised concerns about potential costs, meaning some projects might not happen, and asked local government to do its part to protect against flooding — such as managing lake levels and dredging to ensure water can efficiently pass through the Yahara River chain of lakes. Smart Growth Greater Madison urged a delay in implementation and asked the city to form a work group to lower the cost of development and offset an array of costs being imposed on projects. The League of Women Voters was among the groups who voiced strong support for the higher standards.
Dr. Potter's presentation and the ensuing discussion is available at this link.
The second part of the Revenge of the Marshes program featured guest speakers: Greg Armstrong, director of land management and environmental education, Holy Wisdom Monastery; Ralph Petersen, League member, atmospheric scientist with UW-Madison Space Science and Engineering Center and former NASA and NOAA scientist; and Gail Shea, League member and wetlands advocate. This session included discussion of past weather patterns in the area and the changes that have been observed. The video of this session is available at this link.
Following the LWV UMRR Board Meeting on August 2, the assembled multitudes discussed the two sessions. This rich discussion was captured on Facebook Live and can be viewed at this link. If your League is looking for a way to have a good environmental discussion through a virtual meeting, this could be the way to go. Have people view the two videos independently and then gather for a discussion of what they heard and how it can be applied in your area. Madison has taken a big step with this stormwater management plan. Others can benefit from this.
This post is from the Mississippi River Network blog: https://1mississippi.org/2020-noaa-dead-zone-prediction-and-how-it-affects-your-community/ By Kristen Mertz, 1 Mississippi Outreach Coordinator
Lingering at the base of the Mississippi River watershed, a staggeringly large hypoxic zone, known as the Gulf of Mexico’s ‘Dead Zone’, has begun suppressing aquatic life and livelihoods within coastal communities. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) is forecasting the 2020 Gulf of Mexico Dead Zone to be 6,700 square miles, which is larger than the long-term average of 5,387 square miles. Nicole LeBoeuf, acting director of NOAA’s National Ocean Service, stated, “not only does the dead zone hurt marine life, but it also harms commercial and recreational fisheries and the communities they support”.
Hypoxic zones pose a significant threat to benthic invertebrates, such as shrimp, crab, mussels, and starfish, as they are less mobile than other aquatic species, such as pelagic fish or aquatic mammals, who can often migrate away from the depleted oxygen waters. During hypoxic spells, benthic invertebrates will begin to shift their behavior patterns by reducing their feeding, decline in reproduction, and can become widely throughout the ocean floor. If there is a decrease in communities of benthic invertebrates, it will lead to a decline of other marine species due to simple science, the lack of food in the web.
“Not only have commercial/recreational fishing began to suffer, but tourism within coastal communities as well. Hotels, restaurants/bars, watercraft recreation, etc. are all feeling the brunt of the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico” -Louisiana shrimp farmer, Thomas Olander
A Louisiana shrimp farmer, Thomas Olander, has observed the decline of benthic populations firsthand. In an interview with Travis Lux from New Orleans Public Radio, Olander states, “we’re not catching no large shrimp; there’s no explaining this here other than it’s something’s wrong with our water.” Jumbo shrimp are the most highly sought and has the highest market prices. This proves an issue to not only benthic communities but the livelihood of commercial fishermen such as Olander. Thomas Olander also captured pictures on his phone for others to observe the toxic algal blooms lingering at the surface of the dead zone where he normally would fish. Martin Smith, an environmental economist at Duke University, states, “the stress of fleeing can stunt the growth of shrimp; the dead zone causes the average price of shrimp to drop – which means shrimpers like Olander make less money.” Not only have commercial/recreational fishing began to suffer, but tourism within coastal communities as well. Hotels, restaurants/bars, watercraft recreation, etc. are all feeling the brunt of the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico, with the lack of tourists. The hypoxic waters can be toxic to humans and our pets, which is why it is advisable to avoid the algal blooms. (Click the READ MORE link below the picture for more info on hypoxia.)
At the LWV US National Convention, LWV Jo Daviess County was nominated for the Storytelling Award. This category showcases how Leagues have harnessed the power of storytelling to promote League priorities and recruit members and engagers through projects focused on our history, fundraising, DEI, or the Campaign for Making Democracy Work®. This could include videos, social media campaigns, presentations, email campaigns, webpages, or other activities that were presented to members of their community.
LWV Jo Daviess County was nominated for a series of columns in their local paper on water issues. The columns provided a way to express the League's gratitude to the many citizens who collaborated with us during the years of our work, as well as present continuing opportunities for others in the community to engage in the ongoing work. The columns also functioned as a tribute to the legacy of our LWV founders during this year of our 100th Anniversary.
Given this example, Lonni McCauley, LWV ABC (Minnesota) member and LWV UMRR Action Chair, has worked with the local newspaper in Anoka, Minnesota, to publish monthly columns by local water experts. The Anoka County Union Herald has now published two articles, with more to come. The first was by Chris Lord, Manager of the Anoka Conservation District, and focused on how the Mississippi shaped his environmental consciousness as a child and eventually his career. In the second column, published last week, was by Gretchen Sabel, Chair of the Anoka County Water Resources Task Force. It covered an upcoming report on water resources in Anoka County and what work is being done to protect and restore them.
Each article includes a lead-in from the LWV UMRR: "This is part of a series of monthly columns by local water experts. These columns on local rivers and land use are a collaboration between the League of Women Voters Upper Mississippi River Region and other environmental groups in Anoka County. Learn more about the League of Women Voters at lwvumrr.org." Through these articles, LWV UMRR is working to build understanding and appreciation for water.
“As members of the League of Women Voters Upper Mississippi River Region Interleague Organization, we are appalled at the murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and countless other black citizens. We will not remain silent while they suffer from racist crimes of the past four centuries.
As we speak out for the environmental needs in our 4 states, we must also stand for all black communities and ensure that their needs and fair share of our resources are protected. Our League recognizes that our work includes providing for the equal rights of all voters and we wish to encourage everyone to vote so that our dream of a strong country equally includes all of our diverse people and their dreams.“
- Mary Ploesser, LWV UMRR Co-President
At the May 30, 2020, Annual Meeting, Action Chair Lonni McCauley lead a lively discussion on proposed updates to the LWV UMRR plan of action. LWV UMRR's mission was laid out in our bylaws when we were formed, and follows. We continue to follow this mission, working through LWV US and the State Leagues of Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa and Illinois on state and federal legislation to support our mission.
Section 1: Purposes. The purposes of the LWV-UMRR ILO are to:
(a) educate the public concerning the necessity of preserving our Region’s water resources
(b) improve public understanding and active, informed citizen participation in evidence-based decision-making as essential elements of responsible and responsive management of the natural resources of the Upper Mississippi River Region;
(c) promote resource conservation, science-based stewardship, and long-range planning for managing the region’s natural resources, efficient and economical government requiring competent personnel, the clear assignment of responsibilities, adequate financing, effective enforcement, coordination among the different agencies and levels of government and well defined channels for citizen input and review;
(d) publish on our website, Face Book page, and other media outlets information related to resource preservation efforts and developments;
(e) meet with governmental representatives to report to governmental committees, agencies, and boards; and generally to attempt to help local, state and federal lawmakers establish enforceable legislation to help protect the region’s natural resources; and
(f) expand and redefine our educational and environmental program from time to time as necessary to meet the continuing challenge of protecting our region’s natural resources.
Saturday, May 30, LWV UMRR held our fifth Annual Meeting and our first virtual Annual Meeting. Co-Chairs Mary and Steve Ploesser did a great job of running the meeting on Zoom, proving that this technology can be effective for both a business meeting and the educational sessions following. (We had originally planned to hold the meeting in Glenview, Illinois, and include the Chicago Botanic Garden as an activity. We'll have to wait for another opportunity to try the onion rings at Hackney's!)
Delegates and Board members were on hand from 24 of our 52 member Leagues representing all four states in the Upper Mississippi river basin. We approved an ongoing plan of action (see related blog post), a budget and bylaw changes to address questions relating to determining who is a voting member of the Board. If you have any questions about this, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The May 30 UMRR Annual Meeting focused on Chicago's Impacts on the Mississippi. Our speakers were Debra Shore and Kelly McGinnis - their talks were illuminating, insightful and inspiring.
In the Mississippi Basin, Chicago is the big dog – the largest population center in the basin. The more than nine million people of the Chicago area get drinking water from Lake Michigan but discharge wastewater into the Illinois River.
The map below shows the Illinois River and its footprint across the Chicago metropolitan area. Compare this to the population density map from the Census Bureau, showing 2011 population density. The Minneapolis area is the next largest metro area in the Mississippi Basin with about three million people, a third of the population of the Chicago area.
The Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Chicago is responsible for treating wastewater, you can read more about this organization on their website here: https://mwrd.org/about . Our first speaker, Debra Shore, talked about how Chicago strives to reduce pollution that flows into the Mississippi River, as well as, speaking to her role as Commissioner and the role of the MWRD. Debra even explained the complicated hydrology of the Chicago area and how the Chicago River's flow was reversed to send wastes west to the Mississippi while protecting the city's water supply in Lake Michigan.
Our second speaker was also Chicago-based. Kelly McGinnis discussed how we can support and lead advocacy in efforts to decrease pollution in the Mississippi River. Kelly is the Executive Director of the Mississippi River Network. The Mississippi River Network is a network of 57 organizations in the Mississippi Basin, working together to protect the land, water, wildlife, and people of the United States’ greatest River. The three areas where the MRN is providing education is on reducing nutrient pollution, protecting floodplains and wetlands, and promoting farm bill conservation programs. Read more about the MRN at on their website at http://1mississippi.org/aboutus/#network. LWV UMRR is a proud member of the MRN.
The videos of the talks follow - click "Read More" following the videos for speaker bios.
Like LWV UMRR, American Rivers is a Mississippi River Network member. American Rivers is a national river advocacy organization that releases an annual report of America's 'Most Endangered Rivers'. Number one on the list for Most Endangered Rivers of 2020 is our beloved Upper Mississippi River. In her latest blog, Kristen Mertz, recaps the Most Endangered River listing, highlighting issues and opportunities, while also sharing about the criteria used to generate the report.
From a post on the Mississippi River Netowrks blog, "American Rivers has defined the greatest threats to the Upper Mississippi River as climate change and poor floodplain and watershed management. Climate change is closely linked to flooding, due to heavier, and more frequent precipitation along the Mississippi River. Not only are we accumulating greater rainfall, but we are also increasing our runoff as well. Olivia Dorothy, Director of the Upper Mississippi River Basin at American Rivers, notes that sediment runoff also raises the riverbed and exacerbates flooding.
Additionally, in urban settings, the banks of the Upper Mississippi River have been overdeveloped with impervious pavements that do not assist in filtering the pollution before it enters our waterway.
What can you do? Contact your local politicians and tell them that you want them to address Mississippi River flooding through use of restored wetlands and other natural upland water storage tools. We can make the Mississippi better!
This is not an Action Alert from Leauge of Women Voters, rather we are providing information on a pending goverment action that our readers may decide to comment on, with information from other organizations. Note that the comment deadline is May 18.
A recent email from the Water Protection Network urges readers to comment on a rule being proposed by EPA. (MRN's appeal follows this paragraph, verbatim.) This rule would set standards for the types of scientific research that can be used in environmental decision making. On its face, it would make sense for EPA to define the level of research that will be used - as we are seeing now with covid research it seems that there is often incomplete, inconclusive or even conflicting conclusions that come out regularly. It's important that the research that is used in decision-making reflects the current scientific understanding on a particular topic. But if the constraints work to systematically exclude certain types of research, the quality of decision making is diminished. So, here's the call-to-action paragraph from the Mississippi River Network
"Take Action Against EPA's Secret Science Rule
At a time when the importance of sound science-based decision-making is painfully clear, the Trump administration has proposed a rule that would impose sweeping restrictions on the types of scientific studies that can inform the regulatory decision-making process. Instead of "strengthening transparency" as the proposal claims to do, it is instead designed to "keep highly respected and peer-reviewed scientific studies from informing government decisions on public health and environmental protection" (Bruce Stein, NWF).
Following the links in this paragraph leads the reader to EPA's proposal in the Federal Register and a March 23, 2020, blog post by Ann Mesnikoff of the Environmental Law and Policy Center. Reading the EPA proposal it is hard to sort out what there is to be concerned about. There is a link in Ann's blog post taking the reader to Ann's December 4, 2019 post, where she provides more background on the rule. She says, "The rule requires all of the data underpinning EPA legislation to be publicly available or otherwise replicable. However, there are multiple reasons why some studies can’t be replicated or made fully available. Privacy rules and patient protections prevent individual health data from being released. Raw data or original conditions may no longer exist, such as lead exposure from leaded gasoline, which has been banned now for decades. Scientific research is built around long-term and health-based research, so there are long-established methods for evaluating in these situations. The new “transparency” rule would not lead to more transparent research; it would only bar EPA from using critical scientific information."
This action is just one of a myriad of ways that the rules protecting our air, land and water are being weakened. Sigh. Push back will be timely,.
Picture below - How institutions are approaching scientific research during Covid-19
|LWV Upper Mississippi River Region||