missouri river

Imagining the Earth through Art

By Casey J. McLaughlin

Written descriptions of the earth can be quite informative, but all good Geographers (in my opinion) know and love pictures and maps of the earth.  National Geographic is an incredibly successful example of the visual appeal of our planet.  I am not a huge art connoisseur, but Conversations XIV: Water hosted by the Spencer Art Museum at the University of Kansas had a few pieces that really jumped out at me and that I find relevant to human health and the environment.

The Big Blue Thread is rooted in the idea that the Missouri River ties the four states (Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, and Nebraska) of Region 7 together.  Water is critical for our region’s population and agriculture.  The Spencer Art Museum introduces their water exhibit:

Water is timeless… or is it? This installation of works from the Spencer’s permanent collection explores contemporary artists’ perspectives on the elixir of life: H20. Many of the works assembled for this installation take an eco-critical approach to the subject matter, exploring pollution and scarcity, whereas others address water less literally and more symbolically, as a cleansing or destructive force. From this selection of 20th- and 21st-century works, a subtle visual dialogue emerges between the Kaw River of Kansas and the Yangtze of China.

Maple Tree and Stream

Maple Tree and Stream at the Spencer Art Museum (KU). Credit: Casey J. McLaughlin

Many maps depict water with various shades and hues of blue.  It seems universal from my bubble perspective, but Maple Tree and Stream from the Japanese Edo Time period (1600-1868) reminded me of the swirling muddy waters of the Missouri River. The piece is a folding screen, ink, color, and gold on paper — that’s the description provided by the museum anyway.  I have a personal affinity for nature scenes and I felt an emotional bond to this specific piece given my work with the Big Blue Thread.  Seeing the brown stream reminded me of the swirling waters where rivers meet (Kaw Point) and the green trees of the spring.

Bridge over the Yangtze River. (2001)

Bridge over the Yangtze River (2001). Credit: Casey J. McLaughlin

More poignant to Region 7 and protecting human health and the environment is the exhibit by Chinese artist Chen Zhiyuan, Changjiangg Xingzou—Jingti (Yangtze River Walk – Crystals).  I remember visiting the Yangtze River in graduate school and have studied the river a bit – plus my kids and I love The Story of Ping.  I can hardly imagine the journey that took Chen from Shanghai to Qinghai along the Yangtze River (also known as the Chang Jiang).   For 21 days he walked and drank river water.  At the end of each day he distilled the salt from his intake.  As noted in the Museum’s description, he was hospitalized at the end of his excursion.  The piece was behind some shiny plexiglass so I couldn’t get a good picture with my cell phone.  I was first drawn to the huge wall map with a simple blue stream winding on a white background broken by pictures of each stop he made.  In front of the wall map, Chen has displayed his collection of dark colored salt crystals in glass beakers.

I am unsure where in the museum my appreciation of the art moved into concern for the water quality, but it did.  EPA does a lot with water monitoring and you can find out more from the Big Blue Thread ( PAHs in the Water, What’s in Your Water, and most recently in Gone Fishin).  I really wonder what a trip from the upper reaches of the Missouri to St. Louis would look like both from a naturalist (Lewis and Clark) perspective (can it even be walked?) and from a water quality one.  How many salt crystals or other materials would be distilled every day?  Would 21 days of drinking Missouri River water necessitate hospitalization?

Casey McLaughlin is a first generation Geospatial Enthusiast who has worked with EPA since 2003 as a contractor and now as the Regional GIS Lead. He currently holds the rank of #1 GISer in EPA Region 7’s Environmental Services Division.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Get Out and See the Spring Wildflowers (or Nature’s Filters)

Every mid-winter, I become impatient with winter’s cold, and dreary grays.   I find myself wondering if the world around me is ever going to be warm, lively, and colorful again.  And every spring, as the days grow longer and warmer, my faith is restored, as I see little signs of life popping out of the leaf litter in my yard and native metro woodlands.  In a matter of weeks, the grays, browns, and faded golds of the winter forest floor transform into a carpet of green, white, gold, blue, and purple.  The spring ephemeral wildflowers arrive, and the forest takes on a moist, rich scent and texture.

Busse Forest Nature Preserve

Busse Forest Nature Preserve, a National Natural Landmark in Cook County, IL. (NPS.gov)

Growing up with the Cook County, Chicago forest preserves as one of my family’s most significant recreation destinations, I learned in our annual search for Jack-in-the-Pulpits, to appreciate how this time of delightful delicacy and color, is short-lived, as these forest wildflowers take advantage of the sunlight that temporarily reaches the forest floor, during the time between the end of winter, and the leafing out of the shrub and tree layers above them.

 

Jack-in-the-Pulpits (NPS.gov)

Jack-in-the-Pulpits (NPS.gov)

These flowers must complete their lifecycles in a matter of weeks, growing, blooming, being pollinated, and setting seed before the dense shade of summer arrives.  It is because their opportunity to thrive is so short, that these plants grow in great numbers, with several adaptations for attracting pollinators: bright colors, enticing scents, and nectar guides on their petals.  Some even have petals which serve as landing platforms for flying insects.

Spring ephemerals are perennials that sprout mostly from underground bulbs and corms, which they have stored with starch during their previous growing season.  They grow close to the ground because there is no competition at this growth level, and this low profile reduces damage from cold winds.  Because the weather in the early spring is still too cold for most flying insects, ants and small ground beetles pollinate most of these plants and disseminate their seeds.

The natural intricacies and beauty of this time in the woods are more than enough to provide a rationale for conservation and restoration, but recent research by the Leopold Center at Iowa State University tells us that these forest floor communities play a big role in water quality as well.  A recent press release from the center tells how certain species of the forest floor are high performers when it comes to capturing and storing nutrients, along with their companion native trees and shrubs.   Together, their root and shoot biomass act as giant natural sponges and filters.   Iowa State has a couple of nice write ups with more information and can be found at:

The weather this year has been unusual but normally I’d suggest you look for the earliest spring ephemerals between late March and early April, especially on moist south-facing slopes warmed by the sun, and on moist bottomlands next to streams.  Later in a normal spring, look for new blooms on rich, moist, well-drained east and north-facing slopes.  Some of the most common spring ephemerals you will see in our region are, Spring Beauty, Dog Tooth Violet, Toothwort, Dutchman’s Breeches, Virginia Bluebell, Wild Sweet William, May Apple, Wake Robin, Bellwort, Bloodroot, Jack-in-the-Pulpit, Putty Root Orchid, and False Rue Anemone.  They will be interspersed with longer lived spring bloomers, like Wild Ginger, Wild Geranium, Jacob’s Ladder, Virginia Waterleaf, Solomon’s Seal, False Solomon’s Seal, and several ferns.

This spring, wander our metro region’s woodland wildlands with a guidebook and marvel at our ephemeral spring beauty.  You can search for carpets of color in the Fort Leavenworth bottomland forests, Swope Park, Burr Oak Woods Conservation Area,  Isley Park Woods Natural Area, Maple Woods Natural Area, the Blue River bottomlands, and Hidden Valley Natural Area.

Roberta Vogel-Leutung is a city girl with rural Iowa and Kansas roots who grew up on the southwest side of Chicago in a family of 13. There, she frequently took refuge at the top of her family’s three story Weeping Willow Tree, and explored the Cook County Forest Preserves with her family, her Boy Scout brothers, and her St. Albert’s Girl Scout Troop.  She’s a big fan of local nature, and works on Urban Waters partnership projects, and various community engagement and sustainability initiatives, from her seat in ENSV where she has been a contractor or employee since 1988.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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May is National Wetlands Month

May is National Wetlands Month and three Wetlands of International Importance (designated by the RAMSAR Convention of 1971) are right here in Region 7.  They are Cheyenne Bottoms, Quivira National Wildlife Refuge (both in Kansas) and the Upper Mississippi River Floodplain Wetlands which stretches through Iowa.  These wetlands are three of the most important “flyways” for migratory birds in the country – right here in our backyards, folks!

The Ramsar Convention provides a framework for national action and international cooperation for the conservation and wise use of wetlands and their resources.  The treaty was signed in the city of Ramsar, Iran, in 1971.  There were originally 21 delegates from countries around the world who signed the first treaty.  While it originally emphasized providing habitats for water birds, the Convention has subsequently broadened its scope to address all aspects of wetland conservation and wise use, thereby recognizing the importance of wetlands as ecosystems that contribute to both biodiversity conservation and human well-being. Wetlands cover an estimated 9% of the Earth’s land surface, and contribute significantly to the global economy in terms of water supply, fisheries, agriculture, forestry and tourism.    There are presently 165 Contracting Parties which have designated 2,118 wetland sites for the Ramsar List of Wetlands of International Importance.  Signatories are committed to the designation of wetlands of international importance, as defined by internationally agreed criteria.  That means that the designated wetlands are protected from development.

Let’s take a closer look at the three Wetlands of International Importance….

Cheyenne Bottoms Preserve and Wildlife Area is located in Barton County, Kansas.   With 11,500 acres of marsh land, it is the largest marsh in the interior of the United States.  There are 134 species of birds that breed

Harland Shuster (2012) Center for Great Plains Studies Photo Project

and nest in the area, 148 species that may winter there, and 63 species that are permanent residents.  At least 345 of the 472 species of birds known to occur in Kansas have been recorded at the Bottoms including threatened and endangered species such as Whooping Cranes and Piping Plovers.  Annually over 60,000 visitors come to Cheyenne Bottoms  for the purpose of hunting, bird watching, environmental study, fishing and trapping.  These visitors bring revenue to the nearby cities of St. John, Stafford, Great Bend and Hutchison by their use of hotels, restaurants and other facilities.  Here’s a link to a lot of interesting information and a calendar of migrations and events at Cheyenne Bottoms:

Kansas Wetlands Education Center

Quivira National Wildlife Refuge (QNWR) was established in 1955 to provide wintering and migration stopover habitat for migratory birds along the Central Flyway of North America. These marshes, together with a wide diversity of other habitats, provide food, cover, and protection for a wide assortment of wildlife. Wetlands, large and small, are present throughout the Refuge which has 22,135 acres of rare inland salt marsh and sand prairie.

Egrets. Photo from FWS

US Fish and Wildlife

 Thousands of Canada geese, ducks, and other migratory birds, such as Sandhill Cranes and shorebirds, use these wetlands as they pass through the Refuge on their annual migrations.  The grasslands surrounding QNWR also provide habitat for many mammals including beaver, porcupine, black-tailed prairie dog and armadillo as well as numerous species of grassland fowl.  This link will get you to a map of the driving route through the refuge as well as observation points and what kind of birds and wildlife to look for:

Quivira National Wildlife Refuge

Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge is the newest RAMSAR site in Region 7.  Encompassing over 240,000 acres of diverse floodplain habitat, the refuge stretches alongside 260 miles of the Mississippi River through Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois and Iowa.  The refuge protects a significant portion of

U.S. Fish and Wildlife, Upper Mississippi River

the Mississippi Flyway, the migration corridor through the center of the country used by over 40% of the migratory waterfowl in the U.S.  Other wildlife includes over 300 species of birds, 31 species of reptiles, and 14 species of amphibians.  Humans also flock to this natural treasure; more than 3.7 million visitors explore these refuges annually and enjoy recreational offerings like hunting, fishing wildlife observation, boating and camping.  For more information click here:

http://www.wisconsinwetlands.org/Gems/W10_Upper_Miss_&_Trempealeau_River.pdf

Visiting a wetland full of beautiful, vibrant life will restore your appreciation of the goodness of the earth.  Enjoy the contrast of organized chaos as flocks land and take flight and the perfect calm as they float and rest.  The mixture of noisy vocalizations and quiet feeding are better than any roller coaster ride. May is National Wetlands Month.  Come experience the smells of wet earth and salty sand.  Let the beauty of our Region 7 wetlands refresh your soul.

Cynthia Cassel is a SEE Grantee where, for 3-1/2 years, she has worked with the Wetland and Streams team in the Water branch.  Cynthia received her BS from Park University and lives in Overland Park where she regularly carries a bag of rocks so as to remain safely earthbound.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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MR…

By Jeffery Robichaud

I often get confused by our use of acronyms in the federal government, but there are a particular few that always trip me up, namely those that begin with MR, and we have a lot of them here in the Region (what with both the Missouri River and Mississippi River).    For whatever reason when I hear too many MRs (read that as mis-ters) I am immediately transported back to the 80s and the song ‘Kyrie’ (by you guessed it Mr. Mister…no doubt my brain playing some backwards cruel mnemonic trick).

One of my posts six months ago, dealt with a website run by the United States Geological Survey that has wonderful maps created in the late 1800’s by the MRC, Missouri River Commission.  At the time I noted the presence of another website that allowed the maps to be displayed without needing to download them.  Unfortunately at the time it was down for maintenance, but as luck would have it, I was looking through old posts and came across this loose thread (in the Big Blue Thread).  I checked and the MRRP mapping app is up and running.

The MRRP, Missouri River Recovery Program, is administered by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps), and exists to implement actions to accomplish Missouri River ecosystem recovery goals in coordination and collaboration with agency partners and stakeholders.  The Corps has put together a short video describing the mission and activities of the Recovery Program.

There is a quite a bit of information to see and learn about on the web site including:

  • The US Fish and Wildlife’s Biological Opinion pursuant to the Corps consultation under Section 7 of the Endangered Species Act (just highlighted in a recent blog);
  • The MRRIC (the Missouri River Recovery Implementation Committee) authorized by Congress to  make recommendations and provide guidance on a study of the Missouri River and its tributaries known as MRERP (the Missouri River Ecosystem Recovery Plan) and activities in the existing MRRP; and
  • A link to MRWIP (the Missouri River Water Information Portal) a collaborative effort by the Five USGS Central Region Water Science Centers (Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska and South Dakota), in cooperation with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the USGS Biological Resources Discipline, to collect and interpret data as part of the Missouri River Recovery Program.

If you’re not humming ‘Broken Wings’ by now (Mr. Mister’s other big hit) then please make sure to check out the historical mapping application that MRRP has put together.  It does a great job of allowing you to look at historic landcover within the floodplain, and see what the course of the river used to look like over 130 years ago.

Jeffery Robichaud is a second generation EPA scientist who has worked for the Agency since 1998. He currently serves as Deputy Director of EPA Region 7′s Environmental Services Division. He crosses one MR every day on his way to and from work. He is not a Mr. Mister fan, but his favorite one hit wonders from the 80s are Flock of Seagulls and Rob Base and DJ E-Z Rock.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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The Judas Fish

By Jeffery Robichaud

Invasive Species are a big problem in the United States and throughout much of the world.  Here in the Midwest, we have our fair share including the zebra mussel, the bush honeysuckle, and the autumn olive.  However none gets more attention than our pal the Asian Carp, perhaps because of their flying feats. Several years ago, I wrote for Greenversations about these problematic Pisces.

They continue to be a nagging invasive in our rivers, as well as in those of our sister Region (5) to the east.   Staff routinely spot them when we are out on the Mississippi or Missouri Rivers conducting sampling activities (check out the video below).  It almost seems comical, but we have had to amend our Health and Safety plans to add the threat of fish strikes as a potential hazard. Here are our folks on a slooooooowww day.

Our scientists have had lots of discussions on how one might safely and effectively reduce their populations, but apparently scientists in the Land of 10,000 Lakes, have come up with a novel solution: introduction of a Judas Fish.  From an article in the Minneapolis Star Tribune, which describes the work of Peter Sorensen, director of the new Minnesota Aquatic Invasive Species Research Center at the University of Minnesota:

They are called “Judas” animals because, as the biblical reference implies, they betray.  Sorensen said the lessons learned elsewhere using “Judas” animals to locate and kill unwanted species could be used here to fight Asian Carp.

Radio-collared Judas pigs, sheep and goats have been released into the wild, then tracked until they lead officials to difficult-to-find herds of the same unwanted species.

This week, he will use Judas fish implanted with tracking devices to locate the common carp in Staring Lake in Eden Prairie. Though carp are dispersed in lakes during the summer, they congregate in the winter, and the Judas fish reveal to researchers exactly where they are.

A commercial fisherman then will net the mass of unwanted carp, estimated at about 26,000 fish, which root up vegetation, causing lakes to go turbid. Water quality and fish habitat usually improve after carp are removed.

Sorensen started using the method in 2008 as part of his carp research.

“It’s been very successful,” he said. “Carp are really social animals – one will always lead you to another.”

Sorensen said officials could apply the same method to seek out and destroy Asian carp.

I’m not sure how well this will work in our Big Rivers where we see large populations, but if Carp are indeed a schooling fish this might be one of the most efficient approaches to controlling the species.  I checked online and could not find any efforts underway to map populations on Region 7 Big Rivers, an activity which might help in maximizing the efficiency of Judas Fish introduction.  If you have seen any hot spots, on the Missouri River, let us know with a comment below.  Perhaps if enough interest is expressed, we can start a twitter hash tag campaign to collect lat/longs of Carp hotspots on the river, eventually building a crowd-sourced map.  I smell another blog post…or maybe it is just the fish.

Jeffery Robichaud is a second generation EPA scientist who has worked for the Agency since 1998. He currently serves as Deputy Director of EPA Region 7′s Environmental Services Division. Jeff has never incurred the wrath of a flying fish. Perhaps his aversion to meals of aquatic animals is sensed by these cantakerous critters who thus leave him alone

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Remembering a Colleague

By Jeffery Robichaud

I’m a couple of years younger than the Environmental Protection Agency, which had its 40th birthday back in 2010.  There aren’t many charter members of EPA still working for the Agency today.  Here in Kansas City I think we might be down to our last one.  Most have retired.  Unfortunately, we lost one last week, Les our former videographer.

I will always remember the time I spent working with Les on a video almost a decade ago in 2003.  The next year (2004) marked the Bicentennial Anniversary of the Lewis and Clark Expedition; the Corps of Discovery.   A set of men were going to re-enact the entire two year journey as the Corps of Discovery II and the National Park Service was creating a travelling exhibit to accompany Corps II.  The Park Service had reached out to its Federal Partners to help with educational activities.  Since EPA doesn’t have field offices along the route, we decided to develop a video that could accompany the travelling exhibit, led by Les.

Les attacked the project with vigor.  I marveled at what he was able to do with a shoestring budget, working with A/V equipment that was a cross between home and professional, and a rag tag bunch of folks willing to help on the side.  A few of us had a chance to moonlight with Les to develop a script, storyboard shots, and collect footage all while continuing with our normal work.   Somehow Les found a way to pull it off, even managing to capture footage of the Corps II in St. Louis, work the footage into the end credits, and cut copies of the DVD before they began their journey up the Missouri.  The DVD was the Agency’s contribution to the Tent of Many Voices which served as the centerpiece for educational activities of the Corps over the next two years.

Large festival-like celebrations greeted the Corps II at big cities like Kansas City and Omaha, their schedules jammed with local speakers and exhibits, including Les’s video as a small piece of a tremendous program.  But as the keelboat moved further upriver and away from the cities, the speakers and the festivities waned yet Les’ video stayed with the Tent of Many Voices.  It was seen by children and teachers at small towns all along the historic route.  Towns like Kamiah, ID, a small village on the Nez Perce Reservation, where young children were able to watch the following video, which still holds up today.

By the time the Corps II returned through Kansas City two years later, I had moved into a different position and didn’t really get a chance to circle back with Les.  I wish I had told him how amazing I thought it was that his efforts were seen by thousands…and how important it was in helping to show kids how history can be relevant to them, and to protection of the environment.  Thanks Les.

Jeffery Robichaud is a second generation EPA scientist who has worked for the Agency since 1998. He currently serves as Deputy Director of EPA Region 7′s Environmental Services Division.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Mapping Change, Preserving Continuity

By Karl Brooks

We, here at Region 7, have just completed a huge undertaking that changes the Agency’s “internal organizational map”: we relocated nearly 600 agency employees and contractors into a new Regional Office. Agency maps of regional headquarters will now reflect Region 7’s new hometown: Lenexa, Kansas.  The Regional Office has moved, but maps will show Region 7 still maintains a substantial presence in Kansas City, Kansas: our Science and Technology Center (“the lab”).  Our move went really well, thanks to lots of capable people putting in huge amounts of time to prepare and execute excellent plans.  Part of their effort consisted of drawing a multitude of maps: to guide movers, building contractors, security guards, and our own employees.

As you might expect, a physical relocation of that magnitude literally redrew Region 7’s own “internal map”: everyone now works in a new building, in a new city, and in a new workstation surrounded, in most cases, by new neighbors.  Even my agency colleagues who didn’t move to Lenexa, but still had to vacate the former Regional Office, relocated to places new to them: our Science and Technology Center, just down the street from our former Regional Office, and our Training and Logistics Center (“the cave”), across the Missouri River in North Kansas City.

All this shifting is making us remap our workplace.  Large paper maps hang on prominent walls throughout our new Regional Office.  Each map shows, with fine granularity (down to the individual workstation) everyone’s new location.  The maps show the new location for what were familiar common areas (cafeteria, record center, library, and the all important restrooms).  I consult these big maps frequently both because, as Regional Administrator, I should know where my colleagues work, and because I’m also trying to get my bearings. I’m not alone: the big wall maps have become popular places to chat about our new building, find out where to get coffee, and maybe even meet a colleague who will become a new friend.

I have always been a fan of maps.  I treasure old backpacking maps, city maps, college town guides, and historical reference pamphlets.  I love how they synthesize fact and imagination, negotiating an understanding between the “world as it is” and the “world as I have to imagine it on a two-dimensional surface.”

So much do I value maps that I rescued four of my favorite from the mass of outdated paper material that I had to recycle when leaving my old KCK office and moving into my new, much smaller, work space in Lenexa.  Those survivors of the “Great Recycle” tell a story, on paper, about Region 7 that I really can’t read as well anywhere else.  I saved them because they remind me why I often describe Region 7 as the “Guardian of America’s Great Rivers.”  They illustrate how our physical landscape still reflects fundamental natural realities despite the massive transformations we have made across the Heartland’s prairies and plains during the past 195 years.

Four big paper maps show all the principal waterways in Missouri, Iowa, Nebraska, and Kansas.  They came from an old “water atlas” bequeathed me when our long-time Deputy Regional Administrator retired in spring 2011.  They show major cities and towns, and county lines (all-important here in the Midwest, where most residents – rural and urban — still consider county government their most accessible level of public decision-making).

These watershed maps breathe the magic of Midwestern place names: the Maquoketa (in Iowa), the Verdigris (in Kansas), the Niobrara (in Nebraska), and the Jacks Fork (in Missouri).  They don’t just orient a user to today’s water-quality challenges, they invite consideration of how past settlement patterns and agricultural cropping strategies now shape states’ present politics and economics.  In addition, they encourage a user to think about connections and continuities across broad landscapes.  For example, the Missouri River – North America’s longest – ties St. Louis, at its mouth, to Kansas City, where it bends straight north.  The “Mighty Mo” also links the Heartland in Region 7 to the northern Plains and Rockies encompassed by Region 8.  We Heartlanders should always recall that the Missouri ties into the Mississippi, America’s principal commercial waterway.  This great shining highway, which Lincoln respectfully dubbed “Father of the Waters,” functions still as a cord of liquid steel binding America’s entire mid-section – from Region 5 in the Great Lakes through Regions 4 and 6 on both sides of the Delta.

I like my road maps.  In fact, I directed that every Region 7 GOV contain a full, current set of our states’ highway maps because, despite GPS’ wonders, a good road map still gives you precision and context.  Yes, I treasure my big, old watershed maps: they convey information, encourage reflection, and promote understanding.

Dr. Karl Brooks is the Regional Administrator for USEPA Region 7.  Brooks earned a Ph.D in History and Environmental Studies from the University of Kansas, and served as Associate Professor at KU until joining EPA in 2010.  For his full bio visit EPA Region 7.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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The Missouri River in 1894

By Jeffery Robichaud

Missouri River Basin

Map created from DEMIS Mapserver and USGS data, which are public domain.

I always enjoy receiving cool links to data and information that I can use in my work especially older maps.  As you can tell from the name of our blog title, The Big Blue Thread, we are always interested in information about the Missouri River.  A friend of mine passed on to me a website run by the United States Geological Survey that has wonderful maps created in the late 1800’s by the Missouri River Commission.  According to the Corps of Engineers,

Congress created the Missouri River Commission (MRC) in, or shortly after, 1884, to accomplish a continuous, progressive development of the river. The commission consisted of a five-member organization which was charged to make surveys and devise plans to “maintain a channel and depth of water … sufficient for … commerce” and to carry out plans of improvement the commission deemed necessary. The commission went out of existence in 1902.

The Area Around Downtown Kansas City in 1894

The maps go from the mouth of the Missouri to the headwaters.  You can view these online, or download them in either Raster or Vector formats.  If you live along the Mighty Mo give it a go!   I combined them in Arc GIS with some current aerial imagery and showed my kids what the river area looked like over a hundred years ago.  We quickly noticed a bunch more “character” in the river in the form of points, cutbanks, and islands.  Time changes all things and it is fantastic comparing a map from 100 years ago with what we can easily see today.

About the Author: Jeffery Robichaud is a second generation EPA scientist who has worked for the Agency since 1998. He currently serves as Deputy Director of EPA Region 7’s Environmental Services Division.  According to the Missouri River Commission Maps, he lives along a ridge that used to be in a forest.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Reminiscing….

By Jeffery Robichaud

A few weeks ago I blogged about our pending office move.  The day has finally come, and this will be my last in this office.  The movers are taking our items to our new home Thursday and Friday, and I will start to unpack next Tuesday, our first day in the new digs.  This is the view out my window last night, the shadows creeping across the almost empty parking lot.

I know I have taken this view for granted over the years, but as I gazed out of it for one of the last times I was struck by all I could see… how out this one window, I could literally see before me my work over the last ten years and our mission as an Agency.  Apologies to the Little River Band (feel free to hum along) but I couldn’t help myself but do a little reminiscing.

On the left hand side just above an overpass you can make out an orangish-reddish building, EPA Region 7’s Science and Technology Center.  This state of the art facility was one of the first LEED certified laboratories in the country, and it was built on a Brownfields site, allowing EPA to practice what it preaches by re-using  a blighted property.  It is here where samples from all around our Region and even the country are analyzed to provide the necessary information for us to make decisions.  It was dedicated 10 years ago and we are just as proud of it today.   Even with the move to the new building around 80 staff will still be located here in Kansas City, KS.

Towards the center of the photo you can make out the confluence of the Missouri and Kansas Rivers at a place called Kaw Point, a place where Lewis and Clark camped over 200 years ago and which holds tremendous significance to me as a history buff.  It is from that point where we launch Carp Buster II, our electrofishing boat which we use to collect fish from both the Kansas and Missouri Rivers as part of our Ambient Fish Tissue program, the longest running such program in the country.  The information that we and our partners in the four States collect provides the public with timely information about the safety of their water’s fish.   Administrator Jackson visited Kaw Point several years ago to kick off the Summer of Service Intitiative.

Kaw Point used to be a decrepit, derelict, outcropping but through the hard work of the many partners including the Unified Government of Wyandotte County and the Friends of Kaw Point, it was turned into a fantastic park just in time for the bicentennial of the Corps of Discovery.  The photograph below is of my first exposure to the point at  a clean-up I worked in the rain one Fall afternoon almost 10 years ago to the day (also featuring EPA’s Larry Shepard a fellow blogger and all around good guy).

Towards the top of the picture you can barely make out a candy striped stack of the Hawthorne Power Plant to the right of the new bridge.  As a Senior Advisor to our Regional Advisor ten years ago I remember working on an event where former EPA Administrator Christie Todd Whitman spoke about the plant which at the time was the cleanest coal fired power plant in the nation.  However just five years later, a horrendous fire darkened the sky above Kansas City, the result of a fire at a chemical plant nearby.  Many of us worked throughout the night collecting and analyzing the data from inside the plume to ensure that we could provide the public with accurate information about their health.

Finally, I need to comment on the big black silhouette that obscures a portion of my view out my window.  It is a bird, or at least a facsimile of a bird.  One of the nicer features of this building is the eastern facing facade is primarily glass, providing my view of the City built on the River.  However, it seems that birds have a tough time judging the windows and were smacking into them with some regularity.  Rather than just accept this rather macabre side effect, a group of folks including Holly (who is also contributor to this blog) decided that we might scare off the birds by use of these sillhouettes of birds of prey, and darned if they don’t actually work.

Next week the view will definitely change, and I will miss the big black splotch on my window.  What won’t change is the work that my colleagues perform everyday, their creativity, their pursuit of strong science and transparency, and their tireless effort to ensure that we work our hardest to protect the public health and the environment here in the Midwest.

About the Author: Jeffery Robichaud is a second generation EPA scientist who has worked for the Agency since 1998. He currently serves as Deputy Director of EPA Region 7′s Environmental Services Division.  He will miss his view of Kaw Point.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Lassoing a Whirlwind: Managing Flow on the Missouri River

By Larry Shepard 

 

When Casey and Jeff asked me to write a blog entry, I was staring at my screen saver which was a picture of a lake sturgeon isolated by the dramatic draw down of the river below Gavins Point dam near Yankton, South Dakota. Along with its more famous cousins, the pallid and shovelnose sturgeons, the lake sturgeon is a prehistoric fish struggling to survive in the altered environment of today’s Missouri River. How this interesting “Jurassic Park” specimen ended up in a pool of water in the Missouri River for folks to gawk at makes for an interesting story. 

Photo courtesy South Dakota Department of Game, Fish and Parks

It’s been an awfully dry summer this year but during the Summer of 2011, the Missouri River basin was saturated from a Spring rain, particularly the upper basin in North Dakota and Montana. Combined with a high snow pack and late season snows in the mountain ranges feeding Great Plains streams, atypical Spring rains produced record amounts of runoff into the six reservoirs managed by the Army Corps of Engineers. 

In an effort to protect the infrastructure of the 1950s and 1960s era constructed dams holding back all this excess precipitation and to prevent dam over-topping and possible catastrophic failure, the Corps released water downstream into the lower basin. Normal releases from Gavins Point (the southernmost dam) in mid- Summer are typically about 32,000 cubic feet per second (cfs), but in July 2011, Gavins passed about 160,000 cfs. That amount of water had never been released through the dam and its impact on the dam structures was unknown. 

http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3185/5833927841_3f68030c93.jpg 

The resulting high water levels innudated the floodplain, displacing residents and damaging crops and property. Levees built to restrict the river to a narrow channel could not hold back the larger volumes of river water, particularly those levees constructed close to the river bank creating ‘pinch points’ for river flow. Repeated failure of several levees, particularly at ‘pinch points’, during multiple high water events has caused the Corps to begin consideration of levee ‘set-backs’ to address an unsustainable levee design which would also open up the floodplain to accommodate more river flow and improve aquatic habitat.  

Photo by Larry Geiger

Fast forward to early 2012, and the volume of releases from dams raised concerns about possible damage to structures, and the Corps determined that close inspection at particular locations to verify condition and assess any damage was necessary. This was the case at Gavins Point near Yankton, South Dakota where the Corps actually closed the spillway in order to allow inspectors to assess damage. That is, no river water flowing through the dam, resulting in an extreme photographic contrast from the Summer of 2011. 

Photo courtesy of South Dakota Department of Game, Fish and Parks

When the dam was closed in May 2012, the reach of the river extending down almost to Sioux City was transformed, exposing natural and man-made features not seen since the dam was finished in 1955. River organisms were stranded, including many mussels, not commonly found in the lower river. 

Photo courtesy of South Dakota Department of Game, Fish and Parks

River scientists know how the lower river’s substrate is dominated by ‘dunes’ of sand which roll and jump along the bottom which was unique to see firsthand. These ‘waves of sand’ create a very dynamic environment for aquatic organisms living in the sediment and coasting above it. It also presents challenges for human engineering to adapt river structures to a moving bottom. 

Photo courtesy of South Dakota Department of Game, Fish and Parks

If you are ever in the vicinity of any of the six big Army Corps dams on the Missouri River, call the Corps office at the dam and see if there’s an available tour of the facility. They are each unique in their design and how they are placed in the ‘natural environment.’ My personal favorite is Fort Peck dam near Glasgow, Montana, the uppermost dam operated by the Corps. It was constructed in the 1930s during the Great Depression and its powerhouse has an ‘art deco’ design. 

Larry Shepard is an environmental scientist in EPA Region 7’s NEPA program reviewing environmental impact statements and environmental assessments primarily focusing on river-related federal projects. Shepard hails from the shores of Beal Slough in Lincoln, Nebraska, which flows to Salt Creek, then to the Platte River, then to the Missouri River and finally to the Mississippi River.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.