The answer is that Congress is one piece – an important one – of the solution to the Mississippi’s woes. In the UMRR Annual Meeting, we will have an exciting panel of speakers to talk about bills currently in the US Congress that have the potential to greatly affect our river. We will also explore the idea of a “compact” between river states to protect the river from water diversions. This session will set the stage for the work that LWV UMRR will tackle in the years to come.
Join LWV UMRR for this session on May 21 at 10:30. This meeting will be held in Webinar format on Zoom - pre-registration is required. Click this link to pre-register! You will receive the link to the meeting by return email; we will send reminders in May, including on the 21st. Registration is open until the meeting starts on May 21 at 10:30.
We have a great slate of panelists for this session - representatives from other organizations working for the river and leading work on federal bills and big ideas. We will cover the Mississippi River Restoration and Resilience initiative (MRRRI), the Safeguarding the Mississippi River Together initiative (SMRT), the Farm Bill reauthorization and a big idea - the notion of an Upper Midwest Compact to protect the waters of the Mississippi from diversion. Our speakers represent organizations that are working to protect the Mississippi.
Environmental outcomes of the US Renewable Fuel Standard - the impacts of corn ethanol on carbon levels
On Feb 14, 2022, a group of researchers from the Universities of Wisconsin, Kansas, Kentucky and California published a paper that examines the overall impact of the US Renewable Fuel Standard on carbon in our atmosphere. Here's a link to that article in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Based on their analysis, the researchers showed that ethanol from corn and other biofuels actually add to green house gases.
The researchers conclude that when considerations such as land use changes, increased fertilizer use, impacts of ethanol production and more, corn ethanol can actually be increasing green house gases. Corn ethanol is the current cornerstone of renewable fuels.
Corn ethanol was found to be worse for the environment than gasoline in this paper. Researchers from other institutions will add their analyses as they test the hypotheses of this paper. That is how science works, through testing and data, and rigorous discussion based on facts.
Science has become politicized, and it is likely that there will be much bluster and ballyhoo about this research, too. Depending on where you get your news, the interpretation will change. It's good to look at the data that the conclusions are based on and keep an open mind when the research is discussed.
This article, on the Civil Eats website, provides a good summary of the paper for non-scientific audiences from an environmental perspective. Limited reading of the article is allowed before the paywall closes. This article is from one of the authors of the paper, is a statement of findings in his own words on the UC Davis website. It is also a good summary of the findings.
Minnesota is using a combination of approaches in the areas where water conflicts occur. These are documented on the DNR website at this link. The report, "Definitions and Thresholds for Negative Impacts to Surface Waters", set the basis and makes excellent reading! This report examines the hydrologic linkages between surface and ground water, and how both must be managed together to achieve water sustainability.
Water Scarcity in the News:
Here are some recent articles from around our region:
Even in water-rich Michigan, no guarantee of water for all:
Iowa sand mining company abandons appeal to export Iowa groundwater:
Just 50 miles from Lake Michigan, groundwater is running out:
https://www.chicagotribune.com/news/environment/ct-illinois-water-supply-lake-michigan-aquifers-20210226-27j6lwnyjndjhg4ux5ek42qcxu-story.html (This is an excellent article with a lot of information on groundwater in Chicagoland.)
Citing drought, US won't give water to California farmers:
Drastic water use changes proposed to steady White Bear Lake levels:
State leaders have the power to help families with polluted wells:
You pray for rain...
Here is a quote from comments that the Mississippi River Network's Masiah Kahn made at the December 14 HTF virtual public meeting:
This annual public meeting is the only opportunity that the public, non-profit organizations, and other stakeholders get to engage the Task Force as a whole – and we think the Task Force can do much better to encourage and enable robust public participation in a meeting like this.
I echo the concerns raised about the fact that despite incremental progress in reduction strategies and the increased adoption of innovative conservation practices, we are nowhere near the interim target of reducing nitrogen and phosphorus loading by 20 percent by 2025. We can no longer keep doing the same thing and expecting different results. It’s also hard to see the forest for the trees when the Task Force’s overarching goals are not front and center in meetings like this.
You can find the presentations and comments from Dec 14 Hypoxia Task Force meeting at this link.
It's time to send a note to your federal elected officials, urging them to support the Mississippi River Restoration and Resilience Initiative. This Act, now working its way through Congress, has promise to be very important to protecting and restoring our Mississippi River. We learned about this at our Annual Meeting this spring; you can see a video of that meeting to learn more about the Initiative. Here's a link to an Action Request from our sister organization, Friends of the Mississippi River, that will make contacting your legislators easy.
This blog has provided information lots of things, including the flip-flop changes that US Water Law has undergone in since the Obama administration adopted the Waters of the US Rule. You can check these out (going back in time) in these posts:
Well, good news for the environment came on October 21, as describe here in a post from the Western Environmental Law Center - here's the highlights - (read the article at this link for the full story)- "Late last night, fishing and recreation advocates won a significant victory for clean water when a federal district court threw out (vacated) a critical Trump Clean Water Act rule. Today’s order from the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California restores state and Tribal authority to ensure federally permitted activities in rivers and lakes comply fully with state and Tribal law. The Biden administration had planned to revise the rule to an unknown degree through a years-long public process. This court decision erases the Trump rule completely and immediately."
On to Soil Health News: The Izaac Walton League has published a new comprehensive review of existing research on soil health and carbon sequestration. This research comes from a University of Maryland scientist, Dr. Sara Via, and shows that increasing the use of common agricultural practices that improve soil health will slow climate change while producing multiple other environmental and economic benefits. In the report, “Increasing Soil Health and Carbon Sequestration in Agriculture: A Natural Climate Solution,” Dr. Sara Via discusses how rebuilding our degraded agricultural soils and acting on climate change are related problems that require urgent action.
Dr. Via writes, “the practices recommended in this report provide a low-cost and immediately available way to reduce atmospheric carbon. Given the wide array of co-benefits associated with these practices, increasing their use is an investment in U.S. agriculture that will pay economic and environmental dividends for years to come.”
The report was published in collaboration with the Izaak Walton League of America and the National Wildlife Federation, and is available at this link: www.iwla.org/publications/news/press-release/2021/10/13/viareport
If you have questions or would like to discuss the report, contact: Duane Hovorka, Agriculture Program Director, Izaak Walton League of America, DHovorka@iwla.org, (402) 804-0033 (cell).
The Wisconsin Section of the American Society of Civil Engineers and LWV Wisconsin co-sponsored a series of meetings on Wisconsin's infrastructure in the past year. The videos from these 11 meetings are now posted. Here's the information on the meetings that Carol Diggelman (Emerita Professor, Civil & Architectural Engineering & Construction Management Department, MSOE; Co-Chair, LWV of Milwaukee County Natural Resources Committee and Member, LWVWI and ASCE WI Section) shared recently.
ASCE WI-LWVWI “Invest in Wisconsin’s Infrastructure” Overview and Category Series are now complete. You will find the links to video recordings of all programs below. Overview meeting links can also be found on the ASCE WI YouTube channel. Category meeting links can be found on the LWVWI website at this link.
We encourage everyone to forward these program links to others, particularly your elected officials.
Human activities have fundamentally altered our landscape, and the outcome has been degradation of the earth's natural processes and cycles. Conservation practices are used to restore the natural hydrology and ecosystems in a patchwork of promise across the landscape. Can these conservation practices also help to capture carbon in the atmosphere, reducing greenhouse gases and helping to combat climate change?
The answer is all too familiar - it depends. Practices like turning marginal cropland into restored wetlands does increase the permanent land cover and can encourage the growth of woody plants, but wetlands also emit methane, a more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. This 2019 report by the Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources finds "... Drainage of wetlands and conversion to cropland can release significant amounts of long-stored carbon through organic matter decomposition. However, wetlands also emit methane, making it difficult to assess their role relative to GHG emissions. Methane emissions are highest in wetlands that are permanently or frequently inundated, while less frequently inundated wetland types such as wet meadows appear to sequester more GHGs (green house gases) than they emit. "
Similarly, the role of other conservation measures - for example cover crops - has to be carefully considered before values for carbon capture are assigned. This UMRR blog post from December, 2020, outlines a growing experiment in development of a carbon market in Minnesota. Now, the budget proposed by Minnesota Governor Tim Walz for the Board of Water and Soil Resources includes funding for expansion of carbon markets in Minnesota - see page 46 here.
Let's be clear here. Conservation practices are a good thing. LWV UMRR strongly agrees that cover crops and reduced tillage are vital climate adaptation and resilience measures, providing undeniable benefits to soil health and farm resilience. Improved soil health, keeping water on the land, and restoring habitat will have benefits broadly, including making our landscapes more resilient to the added stresses of our changing climate. Our concern is that cover crops and no-till may play a minimal role in sequestering carbon. LWV UMRR is joining with other environmental organizations in Minnesota in requesting that more consideration be given to scientific data on carbon capture before the state more strongly commits to including cover crops and no-till as eligible practices in a carbon market.
Watch the LWV UMRR Blog for continued reporting on this issue.
US Army Corps of Engineers seeking comments on the Water Resources Development Act - public meetings in March, comment period ends May 7
The Water Protection Network has shared upcoming opportunities for organizations to provide input to the Army Corps of Engineers on developing implementation guidance for the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) of 2020, the bill that authorizes projects and policy changes for the Corps. The Corps issued this notice, published today in the Federal Register, opening a 60-day public comment period (May 7, 2021 deadline) and announcing a series of virtual stakeholder sessions (listed below) for the public to provide input and recommendations to the Assistant Secretary of the Army-Civil Works on any provisions of WRDA 2020.
This Act includes provisions that recognize the role of climate change in water management. There are some provisions that could be seen to be positive, and some that are more troubling. You can read a summary of the bill at this link, and we've also included it at the end of this post.
Click here for a summary, from the National Wildlife Federation, of key provisions of WRDA 2020 that they have identified to benefit the environment, underserved communities, and Tribes; that are particularly harmful to the environment; and that advance restoration of important ecosystems.
LWV UMRR urges people interested in the river to take time to dig into the Corps' plans for implementing the WRDA and raise concerns where appropriate. Here's the information on public comment - note that these meetings start next week! Sitting in on one of these virtual meetings would be a good way to get an overview of the issues at stake; final date for submitting comments is May 7.
In our December blog post, we told you about the Ag-Urban Partnership Forum hosted by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. In a recent email, Katrina Kessler of MPCA said:
"I am reaching out to let you know that the MPCA recently published a detailed Water Quality Trading Guidance document and a companion website that provide a high-level introduction to the concept of water quality trading. Water quality trading provides a mechanism and legal framework for regulated wastewater and stormwater sources to engage in watershed-based water quality restoration and protection partnerships, and is closely related to the ecosystem services marketplace ideas presented at the Ag-Urban Partnership Forum.
The Water Quality Trading Guidance is available on the MPCA’s water quality trading webpage. I encourage you to visit the website and, if you are interested, review the guidance document.
I am also pleased to share that the MPCA, in coordination with the Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) and Board of Water and Soil Resources (BWSR), will be initiating a pilot project to increase awareness and participation in water quality trading opportunities. We are excited to work with local resource managers and agricultural producers to identify how state agencies and local partners can work on innovative water quality solutions."
We will continue to follow developments and share them on the blog. Trading is an important option for reducing nonpoint source pollution. Read more about MPCA's efforts in trading on their website's trading page.
Regulatory Capture and Minnesota's Government: Working for the Public Interest, or Special Interests?
Monday, March 15, 2021, 7:00 p.m. – Public Meeting via Zoom
presented by: Don Arnosti, Environmental Organizer
This program is a Zoom Webinar hosted by LWV Woodbury Cottage Grove (MN). Please register here:
Open to the public – invite a friend!
Regulatory capture occurs when government serves private interests instead of enforcing existing laws written in the public interest. Don Arnosti provides evidence that documents regulatory capture
Don Arnosti has 30 years of broad expertise in environmental policy and organizing. He currently consults for the Friends of the Minnesota Valley on agricultural drainage issues. Don Arnosti is a long-time, active member in Minnesota Environmental Partnership (in which LWVMN belongs). He served as Executive Director for Audubon Minnesota and the Izaak Walton League, and in various positions for the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, and Clean Water Action. He has worked with people in all corners of the state to protect water, land and wildlife, while incorporating rural communities' interest in farming, forestry and tourism.
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