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Monday, June 29, 2009

Class is in session...Class IV that is...

When you think of whitewater rafting, your mind doesn't usually turn to Wisconsin. Bass fishing, sure. Kayaking, probably. Drinking beer while doing either, absolutely. Whitewater rafting...not so much. Well, just like all accepted assumptions, this one too is incorrect. Because you don't have to go to Colorado to experience the thrill of Class IV can do it right here on the Menominee River that creates the border between Wisconsin and Michigan. A few weeks ago, a few River Alliance rats and others went to experience it themselves. And experience it they did. Here's just one action shot from the day--and there are more available here. Great fun was had by all. Special thanks to Kosir's Rapid Rafts, good friends of the River Alliance, who made sure everyone had a great--and safe--time.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Catfish Dead of Alcohol Poisoning? Or Maybe Not

A sad story in the “industrial accident” category out of northern Illinois this week.

On Friday June 19, a train hauling tankers cars of fuel ethanol derailed, killing one woman and causing the evacuation of people in the area. Two days later, thousands of dead fish started washing up on the shores of the Rock River. People have found dead fish as far downstream as the Rock’s confluence with the Mississippi.

The train derailed near a creek which feeds the Kishwaukee River, which flows to the Rock. Incredibly, government officials say the ethanol spill didn’t necessarily kill the fish; they don’t know what did, and tests of the dead fish found no traces of ethanol or of the gasoline that’s mixed in the ethanol (to prevent people from drinking it), as reported by the June 25 edition of the Rockford Register Star Even more bizarre is that one EPA official, with an apparent straight face, claims the fish kill may have been caused by lowered oxygen levels as dead fish decomposed.

Can someone explain how the first batch of fish died?

What we do know is that some of the ethanol tanks were ablaze, and firefighters kept a constant flow of water on them to keep others from blowing up. Rat wonders where that water ended up. Some locals believe the ethanol spill was coincidental – that heavy rains ran some other toxic stuff in the river and killed the fish. Then again, an Illinois DNR guy said the cause was something “caustic” that literally made the fish jump out the water to escape it.

Whatever the cause, apparently some fine specimens of channel catfish succumbed.

Rat isn’t totally serious with this closing comment, but I have to say it – you gotta wish the derailment had taken place along the already-near-toxic Illinois River, which has been taken over by the bighead (Asian) carp, an aquatic scourge that threatens to ruin the Upper Mississippi basin. YouTube has some frightening footage about these beasts, which are also there due to “human error.”

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

River restoration: Should we bring back Mississippi's roaring white-water rapids?

"For thousands of years, the Twin Cities had a white-water rapids roaring through it, tumbling and roiling over and around enormous limestone chunks that still litter the Mississippi River's floor for eight miles from the St. Anthony Falls dam all the way down to Ft. Snelling.

If it were restored to its natural state, the "gorge" would be a kayaking and recreational wonder with hundreds of acres of new parkland, a photographer's delight and a sportsman's paradise. Scores of eagles would nest there, drawn by all the fish that would mass in oxygen-rich water and spawn in gravel beds under swirling eddies."
A recent article by Ron Way in the Minneapolis Post got my whiskers twitching in excitement. A small but growing group of restoration advocates in Minneapolis are kindling the hope that the City's majestic rapids may one day roar again with the removal of the Army Corps of Engineers Lock and Dam #1.

It's a long shot. But not impossible. And the article, and accompanying video, make for a great geology lesson with mind-boggling facts like this:
It was 12,000 years ago that a 175-foot falls that rivaled Niagara was where downtown St. Paul is, with massive volumes of meltwater from glacial Lake Agassiz — at the time much larger than the present Great Lakes combined — filling the Minnesota River (then the River Warren) to the brim. The Mississippi was a mere trickling stream by comparison.
Go read the article, and take a little day-dreaming trip through the gorges of the Upper Mississippi river.

posted by the River Rat

Friday, June 5, 2009

Glades Without Alligators

You don’t often put “glades” and Wisconsin in the same thought. We’re a long way from the Everglades, that great swamp down on the tip of Florida.

But a bunch of river rats found out last Saturday that central Wisconsin has some sweet glades to glide through. Their mystique is only enhanced by the fact that the glades are there until they’re gone, when the high waters of spring recede and nothing but mudflats and mosquitoes remain.

These glades are the woody lowlands along the western shore of the Wisconsin River, above the Upper Dells. Our intrepid guide to this ephemeral water world is Mariana Weinhold, who with her husband Frank owns the storied Louis’ Bluff, a high promontory along the river north of the Dells.

Paddling the glades and hiking the bluff was a fine way to spend a Saturday, as 14 souls found out that day. Organized by the River Alliance, the day captured everything the River Alliance wants to accomplish with their “Make a Date With a River” series – learn about a fine river, connect with like-minded river rats, stretch your physical capabilities, and bask in the passion and wisdom and good humor of people like the Weinholds.

Go to and click on “Make a Date With a River” for the schedule. We love rivers here, and it shows when you show up for a MDWR event.

Dough Rollin'...

Despite being a blogger, I don't spend a lot of time takes too much time away from being in and around the water. And I certainly don't want to touch writing a grant application. But it's a good thing some folks around the River Alliances offices don't mind it...and are pretty damned good at it. How so? Well, despite all the damage this Great Recession is doing to everyone, including acute damage to many nonprofit organizations, the RA has bucked the trend and secured several big chunks of change to not just keep the doors open, but keep things working on just about every cylinder. Big checks from a couple big old private foundations have graced the office mailbox, as well as significant commitments from the state and one of Wisconsin's larger municipalities. Apparently, they're doing something right down there at River Alliance Central--the fat wallet types sure seem to think so.