River Talk

March 2011 Archives

Using Up More of my 15 Minutes

Flooding is the big river story around here and River Life is not alone in devoting substantial attention to the issue.  This week, the local NBC affiliate, KARE-11, had a producer in my class and then interviewed me for a story that ran this morning (EARLY this morning!).  The piece is really edited together well, as you can see here.

I was on the news earlier when the University Press published a book about the aftermath of another river disaster, the collapse of the I-35W bridge in 2007.  It would be great to get coverage for non-disasters!

Speaking of flood coverage, we have several students from my class posting to Twitter with their observations, photos, and links/references.  The offer to join the conversation extends beyond students!  Go to our Flood Forum page to learn how to follow us and participate.

And I promise not to grade your posts!
Predictions across the Upper Midwest are calling for perhaps-record floods in all of our rivers.  What impacts are the floods having, and what might be the long term effects of the rising waters?  What do government agencies and river organizations think?  What are the experiences of local citizens as well as policy makers?
The University of Minnesota's River Life Partnership has put together a multi-platform digital flood forum, where we are gathering information, diverse perspectives, and considerations from across the state and region.

Our Flood Forum page provides key links and an overview of our programs:

Follow River Life on Facebook and Twitter, and share your thoughts, photographs, and links to more information.
Read the River Talk blog for more analytical, thought-provoking commentaries.
Follow the links to sites maintained by government agencies, reliable news organizations, and academic/educational institutions as they have all initiated their own flood coverage.
Check the River Atlas to see historic photographs, documents, and other interesting stuff.

We intend for these platforms to be as interactive as possible, so email us at rlp@umn.edu to make suggestions, add comments, and recommend additional sources and leads.  If you would, please do forward this message to others who would be interested as well.  And of course, join the discussions through the River Life Facebook and Twitter connections.

Carping about the carp

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OK, sorry about that pun--just couldn't help myself.

Dennis Anderson is the widely-read outdoors columnist for the Minneapolis Star Tribune, who can be pretty reliably counted on to treat the issues of environmental protection through the perspective of a hunter and fisher.  That's fine; those are important contituencies for habitat, clean water, and other concerns in this part of the world.

Anderson's recent article on the ongoing threat of Asian carp to Minnesota waters struck the right note for the most part, at least to my way of thinking.  There ought to be urgency around this issue of a particularly threatening aquatic invasive species, and Governor Dayton's recommendation for an "all hands on deck" effort is a welcome voice.

But I have a couple of questions, being the contrarian that I am:

First, does anyone know if there is a "natural" northern range limit for these fish?  That is, left to their own devices--and they have darn well resisted efforts to slow them down thus far--how far north are they liable to reach?  Mille Lacs?  Winnipeg?

Second, and I intentionally included Mille Lacs in the previous point, where is the best place to try to stope these critters from decimating the Mille Lacs sport fishery?  Influential people have made the claim that the right spot to stop the carp is at the Coon Rapids Dam, and all that's needed is tens of millions of dollars and an ongoing commitment to maintain a dam that no one really wants.  Or, I should say, no one other than a couple of hundred people who own property along the stretch of the river impounded behind the dam.  Those folks have made a lot of noise trying to get the legislature to protect "their" stretch of the river, and have now enlisted the carp fight as an ally.

Other people have told me that the best place to "close the river to carp" may be the Ford Lock and Dam, or maybe even St. Anthony Falls.  Waiting until Coon Rapids is like waiting for the burglar to get to your screen door and then calling for help and hoping the door holds.

This is going to be a lively debate for the next few years.  Any one want to join in now?  Where should we try to "stop the carp"?
The good folks who run the Mill City Museum have announced a photo contest for this spring, focusing (ouch!) on relations between people and the environment.

With the expected floods this spring, this ought to be quite the interesting time to be out taking pictures!

So--cameras ready...ready, fire, aim! (that's an inside joke) And stay tuned for information on how to find the best of the bunch!
Since so many people are beginning to put the wheels in motion to prepare for anticipated near-record spring flooding, it's worth thinking more about the 1965 flood, which is the highest on record.

This video, posted by Jim Rossman from Elk River Minnesota, shows home video of the Mississippi between Otsego and Elk River, approximately River Mile 885, upstream from Minneapolis.  The film was taken by the late William Klemz, and uploaded courtesy of his son Brian Klemz.  In addition to the fascinating footage, Jim Rossman's information note provides good context and background for the event.

Get your cameras ready, folks; there's liable to be powerful footage to be captured this spring.  Send us your links and we'll try to post a record of the "Flood of 2011."

The River's Gonna Rise...

There's undoubtedly a blues song there; maybe one of you with a more encyclopedic knowledge of the blues than I have will send me a link?  Or if it hasn't been written yet, then this may be the spring to write it.

Because the water's going to rise, at least in the Upper Midwest.

The drumbeat of news stories on flood preparations has grown much louder over the past week, and I want to share some of the posts with you.  In the future, as the forecasts come into sharper focus, I'll only share maybe the stories with the most relevant information, but here's a sample of what's appeared in the last week.

March 9, 2011
South St. Paul does "far more" flood planning this year than years past.

FEMA officials tell local leaders in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, that flooding is likely.  Cedar Rapids has not yet fully recovered from devastating floods in the summer of 2008.

March 10, 2011
The Hastings Star Gazette reports that flooding could reach near-record heights in Hastings, just downstream from St. Paul, MN.

Paul Douglas, consulting meteorologist for the Minneapolis Star Tribune as well as other venues, has a detailed post with historical data and images, and  forecast maps from federal sources such as the National Weather Service and NOAA.  This is a very rich source of pertinent flood information.

March 13, 2011
St. Paul's flood preparations are the subject of two stories, one on local CBS News, and one, from Business Wire, concentrating on protection efforts at the downtown Holman Field airport.

As we've been watching footage of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, one question that has come to mind is:  Could something like that happen here, in the Mississippi River valley?

Short answer:  Yes.  

The Mississippi valley was the site of one of the largest quakes in North America, and many seismologists might say that we're about due for another one.

The New Madrid fault region is located along the Mississippi approximately halfway between Memphis and St. Louis.  Here, in 1811 and 1812, three separate quakes hit, at least one of which was so strong that it reportedly rang church bells in Boston.

Other accounts, which quickly passed from "eyewitness," to "folklore" to "regional mythology," described visible waves four feet high rippling across the landscape, and holes opening that were so vast that the Mississippi ran backwards for three days to fill them.

A web site "The Virtual Times" has a short description and many links to eyewitness accounts, scholarly articles, photographs, and a wealth of other information on the New Madrid quakes.

For a good overview, again with many links and references, the wikipedia entry on the 1812 New Madrid earthquake is a good start.

And the USGS Earthquake Hazards Program has a very nice discussion of historic earthquakes, including the New Madrid quake.

I have read that when "the big one" comes to the New Madrid Fault, there is expected to be severe damage in St. Louis and Memphis, and likely impacts felt from the Twin Cities to New Orleans.

Which reminds us once again that we're all one connected region.

Our friends at Works Progress have just issued a call for projects to be hosted on the Mississippi Megalops, a floating river chautauqua, interdisciplinary art and performance space. We'll be on the river in the Twin Cities the night of June 4-5.

More fun than most people are allowed to have!

I'm pasting the invitation in below and encourage lots of submittals, ideas, exchange and forwarding to likely suspects--this could be one of the truly great river events in years!

Hello Friends & Collaborators!

Planning is currently underway for a new Works Progress art project, Mississippi Megalops, part of the Northern Spark festival taking place June 4th - 5th across Minneapolis and Saint Paul. Northern Spark is a dusk-to-dawn festival that will feature artist projects and other participatory cultural experiences throughout the night. Mark your calendars - June is closer than you think!

Our project, Mississippi Megalops, is an interdisciplinary performance and art experience - including live music, film, scientific and historic presentations, visual artworks and installations - all taking place aboard an authentic riverboat as it makes its way up and down the Mississippi River. Audiences will be invited to take one of 4 excursions departing from Harriet Island throughout the night.

Works Progress is partnering with artist and Salon Saloon host Andy Sturdevant to transform the Jonathan Padelford riverboat into a floating chautauqua for this one night event. Generous support for the Mississippi Megalops is being provided by Northern Spark, Mississippi River Fund and Minnesota Historical Society.


We are currently accepting proposals from artists, scientists, musicians, performers, storytellers, and anyone else who might want to contribute this project!

Selected proposals will address the broad theme of "river stories"- taking inspiration from any aspect of river life, including (but not limited to) history, science, art, philosophy, and contemporary environmental issues.We see this as an opportunity for a group of creative people to work together on a public art project that is fun, and that brings people closer to the river and its historic, environmental, and cultural significance!

Please see the call for participants below or visit the Northern Spark website to submit:


If you have any questions, you can reach Colin at (612) 839-0810 or Shanai at (952) 686 -1340 or email hello@worksprogress.org

Yours From the Banks of the Mighty Mississippi,

Shanai & Colin

Works Progress



Works Progress in collaboration with Northern Lights is accepting proposals for short performances, live music, stories, films, presentations, and other creative contributions to Mississippi Megalops: A Floating Chautauqua at Northern Spark, June 4-5, 2011.


Mississippi Megalops is a floating participatory performance inspired by the Chautauqua movement of the early 20th century, which brought the latest philosophical and creative ideas of the time to people across the country. Proposed projects will take place aboard the Jonathan Padelford, an authentic paddleboat afloat on the Mississippi River in Saint Paul. Selected performances, presentations, and installations will address the broad theme of "river stories" - taking inspiration from any aspect of river life, including, but not limited to, history, science, art, philosophy, and contemporary environmental issues. An audience of 100 people will be aboard the boat at any given time. Proposed projects should consider the participation of those on board, and/or those who might view the boat from shore. Each project proposal may only be submitted to one Northern Spark open call.


Northern Spark and Works Progress will provide the following to the selected project(s):

  • - A $100 honorarium
  • - Production advice
  • - Use of a laptop, projector and screen
  • - Use of a boat-wide PA system

Selection criteria

  • - Strength of conceptual framework for proposed project
  • - Feasibility
  • - Compatibility of project with Northern Spark's proposed sites and modalities
  • - Potential for public engagement and participation
  • - Applicant's past experience and likelihood for success

Application materials

The application process is online. Applicants are required to submit:

  • - Primary contact information
  • - Proposal concept - (max 1 page, pdf)
  • - A brief bio and CV (max 2 pages for each primary participant, pdf)

Please note: Works Progress may contact finalists for work samples and detailed project information, including budget and technical specifications.


This call will be juried by Works Progress.

Application submission

Application deadline, 11:59 pm March 23, 2011

Post your submission here: http://review.northern.lights.mn/ns11/author/submit.php

Selected project(s) will be announced by April 1, 2011.

We'll continue coverage of the Minneapolis Riverfront Design Initiative (as the former Design Competition is being renamed with the move into its next phase) as long as there's news of substance.  Which there promises to be for quite some time yet.

Yesterday's Minneapolis Star Tribune carried a nice recap/analysis of how the principals at TLS/KVA, began to see the river in their visits prior to the development of "Riverfirst," their winning design.  The article is well worth a look for insights into how top-flight designers approach a project as large and complex as this one.

And there's also the graphic, which conveys a great deal of insight and information simply and clearly.  A great example, even for "Designers 101."
I've mentioned this before, but it certainly bears repeating:  for a guide to federal policy, legislation, and initiatives relating to the Mississippi River and the watershed, there's no better guide than Mark Gorman's Northeast-Midwest Institute Mississippi River Basin Blog.

Take a look, on this day that the Congress threatened to shut down the federal government, for the latest news about that issue as well as analysis of budgetary impacts on a host of programs.

Also noteworthy is the monthly Mississippi River Basin Update, another essential collection of information on policy, news, events, and other cross-agency developments.

Quite honestly, if you are serious about working on Mississippi River-related programs, policies, or projects, you can't afford not to know these sources.  They are simply essential as starting points.

Most of the forecasters are anticipating that 2011 will be a bad year for floods in the Upper Midwest.  NOAA has predicted that every river in Minnesota will flood, owing largely to the heavy snowpack, and all of that water will inevitably head downstream.

"Downstream" for much of the state's water is Iowa.  Iowa knows a thing or two about floods, having suffered disastrous flooding in Cedar Rapids and Iowa City in 2008, and also severe summer flooding in the eastern part of the state in 2010.  Plus, of course, many Iowans remember the Flood of 1993, which closed Des Moines' water supply for weeks.

It is therefore welcome to see that Humanities Iowa, the statewide humanities public programming organization in the state, has taken up the issue of floods and what they mean to the people of the state.  The University of Iowa has a renowned Iowa Flood Center, which examines river mechanics, river restoration, and watershed management.

But the new effort, "Iowa's Flood Speakers" breaks new ground.  A series of experts in water resources, literary studies, philosophy, and religion have been made available to communities who would like to convene a public program or series on what rivers mean.  Does the recent spate of flooding indicate that our children may grow up afraid of rivers, after generations became accustomed to living alongside them?  What new narratives of our lives and our establishment of communities along water should we be crafting in a "new normal" of recurrent damaging floods?  Will we once again share TS Eliot's awareness of the river as "a great brown god/ Sullen, intractable"?

The program is described well in the most recent issue of Voices from the Prairie, produced by Humanities Iowa.  See also recommended reading about rivers, including an interesting and informative series on the possibility of "a new normal" published by the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation.  

If rivers are in fact undergoing longterm changes, where are our "voices of the waters" that can help us make sense of these transformations?  Nominations welcome!

  The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author(s) and not necessarily
  of the Institute on the Environment/University of Minnesota.