Post by Gretchen Sabel, Communications Director
LWV UMRR was incorporated in 2015, after being affirmed by our membership at our first Annual Meeting on October 24 in Dubuque, and being affirmed by the LWV US Board on April 1, 2016. In the early days, we traveled across the region, getting to know our watersheds and member Leagues. Like everyone else, we turned to Zoom and were virtual for years, finding that this is an effective way to us to work in our far-flung watershed. In early June, 2023, the LWV UMRR Board met in La Crosse for our first in-person retreat since 2020.
Our current chair, Mary Ellen Miller (home League LWV Metro Des Moines, IA) noted that we've matured as an organization in these seven years. Some elements are working well, but others need some adjustment. Now we will be re-evaluating our structure, and seeking ways to bring more people into our Board and committees.
monthly newsletter. The Bylaws Committee will examine the structure of the Board and recommend changes to bring in more Board members in meaningful roles. The Action Committee is also seeking new members as we expand our work and advocacy. We will share more on these new committees in upcoming blog posts. The Nominations Committee is also seeking new members.
Take a close look at the picture above. Do you recognize anyone well-known to all of us Leaguer's? Yes, we had several special guests at our Board Retreat. One was LWV US President Deb Turner. We were honored to be able to ask her our questions about how an ILO like LWV UMRR works with LWV US. She observed that there is no book written that outlines how this relationship is supposed to go so we are writing it as we go. We committed to working together to develop strong ties and effective working relationships. LWV US Midwest Regional Organizer, Jessica Rohloff, also attended - she will be on hand in this role as we move ahead.
All in all, the retreat was a three-day event filled with camaraderie and exploration. It was amazing to be able to meet in person after years of Zooming, and we not only worked but got to know each other informally. Here are some pictures from the event!
The implications of this decision will vary by state, depending on how the state regulates ephemeral waters. (Ephemeral waters are waters that present in wet times but vanish in dry times. A permanent wetland can be isolated in dry times, but connected to a lake, river or stream in wet times.)
The author of this blog post checked State Departments of Agriculture in the five states now part of the LWV UMRR family. Wisconsin, Illinois, Missouri and Minnesota had no mention of the Sackett decision as of May 29. Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig, applauded the decision as bringing needed certainty to farmers.
In states where state regulations do not prohibit removing isolated wetlands or preserving ephemeral watercourses, it's reasonable to think that there will be significant pressure to develop or farm in these areas. Even if something like this is allowed now, those who do the developing and farming will still face the reality that water 'seeks its own level', meaning that in large rainfall events or wet seasons these areas will again be inundated and the water will need to be dealt with. Where will this water go?
The Minnesota is degraded by excess nutrients and sediments that erode streambanks and bury aquatic habitat. The increased flow in the river due to the drainage of the extensive wetlands that covered the land before European settlement has caused significant damage to the river.
Th is has led to the Minnesota being not only a major source of nutrient pollution to the Mississippi, but also being "a river where aquatic life struggles."
Rivers and streams across the Midwest are similarly degraded. The Sackett decision can lead to more drainage and more development. This expansion will alter the hydrology, leading to two major concerning outcomes. One will be reducing the time that water has to sink into the soil and replenish groundwater; the other will be the direct discharge of more runoff to surface waters, making them hotter and dirtier. (Want to learn more about the role of groundwater in the hydrologic cycle? Read here.) Hotter and dirtier water will mean more struggles for aquatic life, and less 'fishable and swimmable' waters overall.
Now that the federal government has opened this door, it will be up to individuals, local governments and state leaders across the country to decide how protected our waters will be for the foreseeable future.
Our featured presenters are Alicia Vasto from the Iowa Environmental Council speaking on the Mississippi River Restoration and Resilience initiative (MRRRI), Brandt Thorington from the Mississippi River Cities and Towns Initiative on the Safeguarding the Mississippi River Together initiative (SMRT), Lara Bryant from the Natural Resources Defense Council speaking on behalf of the Clean Water For All Coalition on the Farm Bill reauthorization and Kirsten Wallace from the Upper Mississippi River Basin Authority on the notion of an Upper Midwest Compact to protect the waters of the Mississippi from diversion. We have more information on the speakers in this post on the UMRR Blog.
This video was recorded on May 21 at 10:30. This video is presented by the League of Women Voters Upper Mississippi River Region. To learn more about our organization and our work, visit our website at https://www.lwvumrr.org/ .
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.
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.
This year's Gulf of Mexico Dead Zone (which occurs near where the Mississippi River drains into the Gulf) brings the same story of a larger-than-average measurement. The hypoxic (no oxygen) 'dead zone' measured three times larger than our national goal, measuring in at over 6,300 square miles; an area larger than the state of Connecticut. It is a stark reminder that we must be doing more, not less, to protect clean water across the Mississippi River Basin. Friends of the Mississippi River’s, Peter LaFontaine, breaks down this year’s measurement and solutions to the problems here.
It’s time for a new vision
Now, we have a great opportunity to do something different. Let’s break this cycle of the same headlines year after year. The Mississippi River Restoration and Resilience Initiative (or MRRRI) is one new tool we can support right now. Matt Rota of Healthy Gulf in Louisiana recently shared that, “this legislation would create a Federal office focused on the health of the Mississippi and would include significant funds dedicated to nitrogen and phosphorus pollution that feeds the Dead Zone”.
The MRRRI Act, or H.R. 4202, was introduced by Congresswoman Betty McCollum earlier this summer. Take action to support a new vision for the Mississippi River now by emailing or calling your congressperson (don't worry, it's easy to take action!).
The Dead Zone is three times larger than it 'should' be. Image: LUMCON/NOAA results from their July 25 - August 1, 2021, Gulf Hypoxia Zone measurement cruise.
This blog post was extracted from an email sent by 1 Mississippi on September 2, 2021.
Fishers and Farmers' outreach work is helping people connect in their local watersheds around the water they share. F&F programs Online and On-Air are must-see's - click the picture below and take a look at their resources.
You can learn about upcoming radio programs (like the May 15 broadcast of Neighbor to Neighbor with Pam Jahnke, which will focus on the Cedar River and Black Hawk Creek watersheds) and live conversations (like Boots on the Ground, an upcoming interactive conversation on May 20 focused on the Polk County, Iowa, Soil and Water Conservation District), as well as find recordings of past sessions that take you all around the Upper Mississippi.
Fishers and Farmers' website has many excellent resources - take a look today! Thanks to F&F for their work to bring people together and improve soil health and water quality in the Upper Mississippi Basin!
In his March 1, 2021 post, Jones compiled data from the monitoring of Iowa watersheds since 2003. His post documents his data sources and explains his methodology. The graph above shows the amount of nitrogen being discharged from Iowa on the major rivers. The green line is the rivers discharging to the Missouri River, and the blue line is the rivers going directly to the Upper Mississippi. The red line is the total discharge. Jones' data shows that the total nitrogen discharge has doubled since 2003.
In 2019, Jones wrote a post that compared the impact of the population of livestock to the human population of major cities. Our speaker at the UMRR session, David Osterberg, quoted Chris Jones as he talked about the need for a stronger approach to nutrient management. You can watch the video of Osterberg's talk via the link in this UMRR Blog post. Chris Jones' blog post that Osterberg quoted is found at this link.
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.
The problems of water quality are shared by rural and urban Minnesotans. The solutions have to be shared, too.
The need to reduce the amount of pollutants that go in to the river unites both agricultural and industrial interests. To help to bridge the ag-urban divide and unite interests, forums have been organized to bring people together. The second annual forum was held on December 16, 2020.
According to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency's post on the conference, ""The key issue initially fueling the conferences centers on the question, how can the urban and rural agriculture worlds work together to address water quality and other environmental issues? Cities face daunting costs for wastewater treatment. Agriculture dominates the rural landscape, and has a major impact on water quality. What if both worked together?
While environmental quality is the goal, getting there is all about the economy. And climate change.
Leif Fixen of The Nature Conservancy promoted the Ecosystem Service Marketplace Consortium (ESMC), which is developing the processes and technology that would pay farmers for “carbon credits” — a measure of capturing carbon to help mitigate global warming." Click the picture below for more information on this pilot project.
The first Ag-Urban Partnership Forum was held on November 18, 2019 and is documented in a detailed .pdf found at this post on the Minnesota River Data Center website.
|LWV Upper Mississippi River Region||