Nutrient-laden runoff from Iowa's farm fields is a major contributor to the "Dead Zone' in the Gulf of Mexico. In this discussion, David Osterberg lays out options for dealing with the problem. He makes a potent case that getting enough farmers to take voluntary measures to reduce runoff, as currently hoped for in the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy, is not going to work. As LWV UMRR Vice-chair Mary Ellen Miller points out in this meeting: Voluntary [change in ag practices as recommended in the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy] is not working, and it's not working because too many federal dollars are going to support the current practices."
<<<<Advance video to 5:30 unless you want to see the chit chat as we all gather for the Zoom.>>>>
This discussion was part of the LWV Upper Mississippi October 12 meeting. The LWV UMRR Board meets on the first Monday of even numbered months (if you do the math, that's 6 times/year). Before Covid, we traveled around the watershed getting to know people and issues across our four-state area. At each Board meeting, we'd have an educational/advocacy session on local issues where local Leaguers and the general public joined us. Now, everything's virtual, so no travel, but we are still doing sessions like this on the first Monday of every even-numbered month. Watch our newsletter for notice of upcoming events like this talk with David Osterberg!
Looking in more detail at the full published study, the researchers found that "Overall, >80% of the Basin total runoff and N leaching was from the rising extreme precipitation areas. Basin-wide, extreme precipitation events occurred only 8.6 days year−1 (2.4% of 365 days) on average, but they contributed to approximately one-third of annual total water yields and N yields. This is likely a conservative estimate of the contribution of extreme precipitation events as we only focus on extreme precipitation days without consideration of post-event legacy effects."
This new understanding of the role of extreme precipitation can inform how changes can be made in fertilizer and manure application to reduce the loss of nutrients.
NOAA-supported scientists have determined this year’s Gulf of Mexico “dead zone”— an area of low to no oxygen that can kill fish and marine life — is approximately 2,116 square miles, or equivalent to 1.4 million acres of habitat potentially unavailable to fish and bottom species. The measured size of the dead zone is the third smallest in the 34-year record of surveys. The average hypoxic zone over the past five years is 5,408-square miles, which is 2.8 times larger than the 2035 target set by the Hypoxia Task Force.
The size of the measured Dead Zone is much smaller than had been predicted. The forecast relies primarily on the Mississippi River discharge and nutrient runoff data from the U.S. Geological Survey. With elevated discharge and nutrient loading this spring, the models predicted a larger than average hypoxic zone to form during the time of the cruise. Instead, the mixing caused when Hurricane Hannah rolled through the northern Gulf caused the anoxic water to mix with the healthy Gulf water, reducing the Dead Zone to the smaller measured size.
While this is good news for sea creatures in the Gulf in 2020, the long term prognosis continues to be grim. Here's a statement from a recent blog post by the Mississippi River Network:
"No one state on its own can solve the nutrient runoff problem in the Gulf of Mexico. Unfortunately, even with the state-by-state strategies ongoing, devastating Dead Zones and harmful algal blooms continue to be a problem year after year.
The Mississippi River Network continues to advocate for increased support for state nutrient reduction strategies through meetings with state, federal, and agency staff. Thanks to River Citizens like you, this past month the 1 Mississippi program sent decision-makers a public petition with over 500 signatures urging Congress to fully-fund proven solutions to reduce nutrient pollution."
In a post on March 26 of this year, LWV UMRR Vice-chair Mary Ellen Miller wrote about the work of SILT - the Sustainable Iowa Land Trust. This organization is dedicated to protecting land to grow healthy food, this nonprofit founded in 2014 uses conservation easements and land donations to keep future land use for nature-friendly, neighborhood-friendly, table food farms. SILT is now seeking donations to protect farmland in four Iowa counties... read all about it at this link.
For example, Fleck Farm, 40 acres in Johnson County, is being generously donated to SILT with a Reserved Life Estate. Conveniently located between Iowa City and Cedar Rapids, Fleck Farm will be a great gift to Iowans seeking food security. Donate now to support SILT with the closing costs required to maintain Fleck Farm as a staple of food security in Johnson County long into the future. This is one way that you can help to make a difference in Iowa; more will be discussed in the LWV UMRR discussion with David Osterberg on October 5 at 1pm. This discussion will be recorded on Facebook Live and a link posted here on the UMRR Blog. See our Upcoming Events page for more information!
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.
|LWV Upper Mississippi River Region||