Our guest speaker was Rob Lee, staff attorney for Midwest Environmental Advocates (bio below). Rob provided a brief history of the Clean Water Act (CWA) prior to 2015 regulations defining Water of the US (WOTUS), and the 2020 Navigable Water Protection Rule. Then he'll talk about the May 2023 Supreme Court Ruling and the now revised regulations just issued by US EPA and the Corps of Engineers with a final revised definition of Waters of the US.
Once Rob has set the stage, LWV UMRR's Gretchen Sabel will present information on the status of wetland regulation in the UMRR states based on a 2022 analysis by the Environmental Law Institute, followed by a look at LWV positions that relate to actions supporting strong implementation of the CWA. We'll round out the hour with discussion period led by LWV UMRR Chair Mary Ellen Miller.
You'll find more information on the Sackett decision here and here on the LWV UMRR blog. Here's a link to an excelllent blog article by Jared Mott of the Izaak Walton League that also provides background.
LWV UMRR Board members are engaged and active people who are leaders in other organizations besides LWV and speak out about issues affecting water and climate! This column by Kay Slama, LWV UMRR Board member, is an opinion piece originally published in the Lakes Area Review, New London MN in August, 2023.
Carbon dioxide (CO2) pipelines carry highly compressed (supercritical) CO2. The proposed Summit Carbon Solutions pipeline would run through southwest MN, carrying CO2 from ethanol plants to North Dakota to be buried underground. The federal Infrastructure Act and Inflation Reduction Act give credits for carbon sequestration, awarding our tax dollars for private companies to build carbon pipelines. Because it would keep carbon out of the atmosphere, you’d think this would be a good thing, right?
But wait—there are loads of problems with carbon pipelines, see www.carbonpipelinesmn.org and www.carboncapturefacts.org. The North Dakota Public Service Commission denied Summit’s siting permit application for underground sequestration, citing many issues that the company had not addressed adequately. Until ND allows the pipeline, the MN Public Utilities Commission should pause its permitting for the pipeline, since there’s no place for the CO2 to go. Unfortunately, on August 31, the PUC refused to make that reasonable decision, and we need to let them know that was unwise for Minnesota.
What about human safety? CO2 is an asphyxiant—it keeps our lungs from getting oxygen when we breathe. CO2 pipelines must be pressurized at three times the rate of a natural gas pipeline (1,200-2,800 psi). Ruptures can occur for a number of reasons. One cause of ruptures can be shifting ground, whether from flooding or the ground sinking as water is used for irrigation. According to the Pipeline Safety Trust, many chemical impurities can get into the line. Any water molecules in the pipeline react with CO2 to form corrosive carbonic acid.
Ruptures have occurred in carbon pipelines, causing human and animal deaths. CO2 is heavier than air, and its unpredictable flow depends on terrain and changing weather. Without wind, it may just find low spots and sit there for a long time. National Public Radio and other media reported on a pipeline rupture in Mississippi that caused 45 people to be hospitalized. It kept cars and emergency vehicles from working because combustion engines need oxygen. Emergency responders need breathing apparatuses that cost more than $6,000 apiece, so they would have to call in a specialized hazardous materials team. The planned carbon pipeline routes run close to homes, towns, and schools, so the CO2 plumes could reach them. The federal agency responsible for CO2 pipeline standards is reviewing them in light of the dangers. These are more reasons construction of carbon pipelines should pause while safety is being worked out.
Land issues need to be considered with carbon pipelines. Installation compacts a wide swath of soil that is almost impossible to loosen so roots can get into it. The pipelines heat land near 90 degrees, and both resulting evaporation and heat make it harder for plants to grow. Restoring soil health and productivity is a long-term struggle both current farmers and future generations will have to bear.
There are many stories about Summit bullying landowners and using misinformation to obtain easements across farm property. Easement payments to farmers last 3 years, but the easements are permanent, so landowners are vulnerable to other uses after the 20-25-year life of the pipeline. Pipelines tend to be abandoned in place after they are no longer useable, so they remain a permanent hazard on the property and its underground water flow. Iowa is considering using eminent domain to run CO2 pipelines through farmers’ lands without their consent. Under the Fifth Amendment, eminent domain must be for a “public use,” which traditionally meant projects like roads or bridges, not the enrichment of private corporations.
In the big picture, pipelines encourage growing huge amounts of corn in the US, nearly half of which is used to produce ethanol. This discourages growing alternate crops that may be better for our land, need less fertilizer and irrigation, and send less pollution down our rivers and into our lakes.
Next are water issues. The buried carbon pipelines cross rivers and wetlands underground, which can puncture aquifers during construction, as we saw with the Enbridge Line 3 pipeline in northern MN. In addition to water used during construction, the pipelines will require 13,000,000 gallons/per facility using the pipeline per year (from Summit’s response to inquiry on water usage during Minnesota PUC 5/4/2023 scoping meeting). This constitutes a risk of drawing down our lake and river levels and aquifers.
Energy issues: Much energy is needed to mine materials for carbon pipelines, which must be much thicker than any other kind to contain so much pressure. Much fuel is required to put the pipelines in the ground. Energy sources process the gases and condense CO2 at its sources, as well as run the pumps and bury the carbon. There is evidence that making ethanol out of corn is a life-cycle process that may use more CO2 than it saves. We have alternative land-use programs that encourage natural plants which sequester CO2, as well as encourage more wildlife and pollute less. On top of that, a ND official admitted that pipeline CO2 will be used to compress fossil fuels out of the ground, a process known as fracking, which will put more CO2 in our atmosphere and cause more of the climate change effects we’ve been seeing so much lately.
So what can we do? We need to think ahead for our climate and our agriculture. We should be spending our “public” money on helping farms move away from growing so much corn. Help farmers feed people rather than make carbon-intensive ethanol, and help them diversify. We need to create markets in MN for their crops. It will take regular input to our lawmakers and state agencies to help them act with this future in mind.
We need to do all we can to address the excess carbon that is warming our planet and causing global climate change. Carbon sequestration may indeed be one of the solutions, but not by crisscrossing our land with potentially unsafe pipelines that will threaten our land and waters and almost certainly lead to fracking for more fossil fuels.
We need to focus on making our climate better, not worse.
Water is a big topic these days! Here's a round up of stories from around the Upper Mississippi Basin
From the Freshwater Society:
U of MN and Freshwater researchers to evaluate injection wells, infiltration basins. With groundwater shortages becoming a concern in some areas of the state, researchers at the University of Minnesota and Freshwater will be poised to assist by deploying a first-of-its-kind GIS mapping tool that could help pave the way for managed aquifer recharge in Minnesota.
From the Daily Memphian:
As Mississippi River levels swing between historic highs and lows, shipping industry grapples with how to adapt
Right now, drought is the one consistent condition along the length of the river. The Mississippi has reached near-historic lows for the second year in a row, which is slowing down shipping and driving up costs for everyone from barge companies to grain elevators.
Warming urban aquifers become fermentation vessels for water-borne pathogens, providing one more reason why replacing aging infrastructure is a good idea.
From the New York Times:
Big Farms and Flawless Fries Are Gulping Water in the Land of 10,000 Lakes. When Minnesota farmers cranked up their wells in a drought, they blew through state limits. Thirsty crops included corn, soybeans and perfect, fry-friendly potatoes.
From Chris Jones' Substack:
Honk if you smell BS... said the gander. Iowa's Lake Darling is full of algae... who's to blame? Is it the geese?
From Circle of Blue:
Chicago Suburbs, Running Out of Water, Will Tap Lake Michigan. The project is a reminder that even in rainy places that seem most water-secure – the shores of the Great Lakes, the Mississippi River basin – a reliable supply is not always assured.
From the River Alliance of Wisconsin:
Little Plover River Flows Less than “Healthy” for Two Months, High Capacity Wells Blamed. Once again, the Little Plover river is in trouble, and not only because of this summer’s drought. To understand why the Little Plover isn’t flowing like it has been in the past few years, we have to look underground.
Long-term research at Cedar Creek Ecosystem Science Reserve has shown that test plots with more diversity (more species of plants) are more productive and resilient. The more species of plants in an area, the greater biomass that plot produced and the more resistant the plant communities are to drought and other stress. This research shows the way for us to make changes in our agricultural systems - increasing diversity in our row crops can help to increase crop yields while reducing the need for fertilizers.
Cedar Creek Ecosystem Science Reserve is a large biological research site in east-central Minnesota with natural habitats that represent the entire state. Cedar Creek sits at the meeting point of three major biomes: the tallgrass prairie, coniferous forest, and deciduous forest. As a result, the reserve is considered a site of Outstanding Biodiversity Significance by the MN Biological Survey. Prescribed fire, invasive species control, and rigorous monitoring, are used to maintain and restore in collaboration with local and regional partners. Cedar Creek is owned and operated by the University of Minnesota in cooperation with the Minnesota Academy of Science..
What kind of change? Using the results of the research at Cedar Creek, Dr. Tilman showed that increasing the diversity of plant communities in farm fields would increase yields. He talked about research into new farm practices in China that have shown that adding just one additional crop inter-stripped into a field in five-foot rows greatly increased total yields of both crops. Adding cover crops that create the diversity to the mix you find in nature – grasses, legumes and flowering plants – will rebuild healthy soil. This will mean storing more carbon, requiring less fertilizer for crops and increasing yields so more land does not have to be cleared.
In her talk on September 22, Dr. Elizabeth Borer described her work with a global research cooperative of hundreds of researchers at more than 160 sites who study grasslands around the world. This network spans 28 countries on six continents, providing a global context for the work at Cedar Creek. The researchers in this network share data on the changes they are seeing as nutrient pollution through rain and water pollution causes changes in native grasslands across the globe. Native plants in an area evolved to suit the nutrient signature where they were growing; added nitrogen is causing a loss of native plants and more insect herbivory, and leaves plants more susceptible to disease. The slide below shows the increasing nitrogen in rainfall since 1860. This nitrogen comes from emissions of ammonia and nitrous oxides, and is expected to increase in years to come.
When we are told alarming news like this, we may feel discouraged, and don’t feel that there’s anything we can do. But there are things we can do. We can advocate for increased funding in the Farm Bill to help farmers change farming practices, and we can eat foods like vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and nuts while reducing our consumption of red meat and dairy products. The diagram below shows the environmental impact of a food's production on the left axis and the relative risk of mortality from eating a daily serving of that food along the bottom axis.
Please let us know when you have contacted one of these House or Senate members - fill in this quick form at this link. We are especially interested in any responses you receive - there's a line on that form for summarizing any response or you can attach a file if that would work. When you complete the form you will get a copy of your response. Thank you!
Also, thank you to everyone who attended the US Farm Bill 2023 webinar by Duane Hovorka, Senior Policy Specialist, National Wildlife Federation that LWV Upper Mississippi River Region hosted on August 7. In case you missed it, view the recording here.
Join celebrated Mississippi River historian, author, and storyteller Dr. John Anfinson on Tuesday, September 26th, from 6 - 7 pm CT, for The Long Journey of the Great River. John is a featured speaker on American Cruise Lines, and his spellbinding presentation includes stories of the people, land, water, and wildlife of one of the world's greatest rivers, the mighty Mississippi. Join this unique free event from anywhere; all are welcome to this special online
1 Mississippi World Rivers Day event. Click this link to register!
The Mississippi River Network* is sponsoring this exciting talk by John Anfinson, retired Superintendent of Mississippi River National River and Recreation Area, author of "The River we have Wrought: A History of the Upper Mississippi", and passionate river advocate. John is also a speaker on American Cruise Lines' voyages on the Mississippi.
Widely considered to be one of the world’s leading experts on the Mississippi River, Dr. John Anfinson was among the first to alert Minnesota of the dire effects of invasive carp coming up the river from Arkansas. With solid science and visions of silver carp erupting pell-mell in boat traffic, John’s work led to a coalition of non-profit organizations that played a critical role in closing the St. Anthony Falls Lock. Not only did this save Minnesota’s lake country from these invasive species, it forever changed the Twin Cities riverscape and opened the way for multiple revitalization projects along the Mississippi.
*The Mississippi River Network (MRN) is a coalition of 58 organizations dedicated to creating a healthier Mississippi River by working for the well-being of the people, land, water, and wildlife of America’s largest watershed.
The Network also advances its goal for a healthier Mississippi River by supporting 1 Mississippi with important River science and policy information. 1 Mississippi is a public outreach program of MRN and is a growing national movement of over 20,000 River Citizens —people dedicated to protecting the River by taking simple actions. As the guardians and caretakers of the River, from armchairs to wading boots, River Citizens are people the River can count on.
The MRN was founded in 2005 on the premise of four central tenets the People, Land, Water, and Wildlife Goals.
The LWV UMRR Board consists of five officer positions (Chair, Vice-Chair, Past Chair, Secretary, and Treasurer) and a representative and alternate from each of our member states. The reps and alternates are designated by their state LWV Boards. We also have a member of the Board who serves as Communication Chair. The officers can be filled by two people who serve, for example, as Co-Chairs. (More info on the Board at this link.)
This structure has served UMRR well since we were organized in 2015. Now, in our eighth year, we are re-examining our structure and are planning ways to expand the Board so we can tackle new challenges.
In the next six months, we are examining our bylaws and finding ways to expand our Board and get more people involved in our work. One way to do this is to restructure the state Reps by making the alternates full Board members and maybe expanding to three Reps per state. To that end, we are seeking members for our Bylaws Committee, working now to develop new draft bylaws for member consideration next spring. If you are interested in serving, email us at email@example.com .
We are also seeking members for our Action Committee. This group meets monthly and reviews opportunities for LWV UMRR to issue action alerts or sign on to letter for federal actions. We bring in voices from other like-minded non-partisan organizations in our territory, and are developing a strong alliance with the action arm of LWV Lake Michigan Region. If you are involved in advocacy work around climate change, water quality or water quantity in the Upper Mississippi Basin (Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois and Missouri) through other groups, and want to bring that information to LWV, consider joining our Action Committee. This group also advises the Board on possible educational programs that would support LWV UMRR's work in water issues and climate change.
Would you like to work with communications? Our newly-formed Communications Committee is looking for members to help maintain our website, write blog posts and work on our social media. You could be the plucky 'cub reporter', snooping out and developing stories for our blog and or be the person who makes it all look professional on our easy-to-use Weebly website. We use MailChimp for our monthly newsletter - this is a free service that local Leagues can also use for eye-catching emails. If you join the Communications Committee, we will work on all of this together and you can gain some skills for your local League work.
And, sadly, we lost a Board member in July and now have an opening for an alternate from Minnesota. We will be advertising this opening through the LWV MN All-Member News in September.
Lonni's Celebration of Life will be held on Wednesday, August 30, 2023 at 5:00 p.m. at the Coon Rapids Civic Center, 11155 Robinson Drive, Coon Rapids, MN 55433. Here's a link to her full obituary. Following are memorials from League of Women Voters and Mediation Restoration Services.
Born and raised on a farm in Southwestern Minnesota, Lonni was an ardent supporter of soil health movement. In her role with LWV UMRR, she worked with Land Stewardship Project to sponsor seminars for absentee landowners. This is important because about half of farm land is rented, and the owners can have a big say in the farming practices that are used. (Read about it in this blog post.)These sessions came to a close when the world shut down in 2020.
In 2020, Lonni put her local connections to good use, organizing a series of monthly articles for the local newspaper. Here, leaders in the water community in the northern Twin Cities were invited to provide columns on water topics. These articles ran monthly for two years, April 2020 to May 2022 in the Anoka County Union, providing an opportunity for water agencies and non-profits to share information about their work and raising local awareness of League of Women Voters' work in water. (Here's a blog post introducing the series.)
Lonni had many illustrious careers before she began working with LWV UMRR in 2015, including a stint as Mayor of Coon Rapids, a suburban city on the Mississippi in the Twin Cities. Her ties to the community were strong and she advocated for climate solutions to be implemented in her city. This blog post describes work that she and others instigated to change city ordinances and urge the city toward developing a stronger environmental ethic. May of 2023, a presentation was given to LWV ABC on the success of their efforts. Lonni gave a short presentation on the Coon Rapids Regenerative Energy Taskforce. Guest speakers Kari Rehrauer (Coon RapidsCouncilmember) and Olivia Dorow Hovland (Coon Rapids Sustainability Planner) presented a program on the Coon Rapids Energy Action Plan recently approved by the city council. You can see the video of this meeting at this link.
Lonni's vibrant energy, keen intellect and dry wit were well known among League members, and we will miss her. We offer condolences to Lonni's family and friends. The work that Lonni fostered with LWV will continue. If you wish to make a memorial donation to remember Lonni and support the mission of LWV Upper Mississippi River Region that was so important to her, visit the LWV UMRR donation page at this link.
We will share a link to other obituary information here when it becomes available, including memorials to other causes as the family determines. A notice from Mediation and Restorative Services follows these pictures.
Memorial Notice from Mediation and Restorative Services:
It is with great sadness that we inform you of the passing of Lonni McCauley, founder of Mediation and Restorative Services. She passed away on August 3, 2023.
Lonni McCauley founded MARS in 1987 to meet a community need for alternative dispute resolution in Anoka County. Thousands (I think it would be in the thousands) of people in our community have accessed free conflict resolution services over the past 36 years, repairing harm and making our community more peaceful. We can truly say that we, and the many individuals who have used our services, would not be where we are today without Lonni’s passion and drive.
Our hearts go out to Lonni’s family during this difficult time.
The Farm Bill is taking shape. We will continue to report on it in this blog. Marker bills are circulating now and are are seeing the outline of the final bill. Here are some resources to help you understand things as they come along.
There was a listening session on the Farm Bill at Minnesota's Farm Fest on August 2. Here's a link to watch the video of this event:
There will be a second listening session happening on Wednesday, August 16 in La Crosse, Wisconsin, beginning at 1:00 PM CT at the La Crosse Center at 300 Harborview Plaza, La Crosse. Register at this link:
Information from Congress
Congressional Research Service: https://crsreports.congress.gov/product/pdf/IF/IF12047 and
Podcast from Brownstein law firm
For those who prefer to listen rather than read: https://www.bhfs.com/insights/podcasts/an-introduction-to-the-2023-farm-bill
Information from Farm Aid
Farm Bill Primer (history, politics, twelve titles, more): https://www.farmaid.org/issues/farm-policy/farm-bill-101/
Updates on Farm Bill progress: https://www.farmaid.org/issues/farm-policy/the-latest-updates-on-the-2023-farm-bill/
From PASA Sustainable Agriculture
What is a marker bill? https://pasafarming.org/farm-bill-101-whats-a-marker-bill/
Documents from the Mississippi River Network with background
|LWV Upper Mississippi River Region