Friday, April 18, 2008

The project summary: A follow-up to our brainstorming session with the Ocean Conservancy

After our conference call with Sonya and Katherine at the Ocean Conservancy back in March, they asked whether we’d be willing to provide a written overview of our project. They thought having it might help them explain geotrashing and the rest of our project to people who work on the Ocean Conservancy’s “International Coastal Cleanup” team.

Truth be told, we found their interest a bit gratifying. After all, even though our first major clean-up campaign occurred more than 14 years ago, Julie and I are relative newbies to the cause. Having the interest of an organization like the Ocean Conservancy, in a way, validates some of our work. So we did our best to hastily draft a report. (Perhaps a bit too hastily… please forgive any typos you discover!)

Since then, we have shared copies of the Project Summary with several people familiar with our project. One of those recipients was Kris Stepenuck, coordinator of the WAV program for the University of Wisconsin Extension Service and the Wisconsin DNR. She responded by asking if she could post it at the program’s web site. We agreed… so if you’d like to download a PDF copy of the overview, you can click here. (Warning: It is 8 MB, due to intense use of photography.) The document is designed to be read from the screen, rather than be printed; it provides the reader with a set of links to gain more information about any topic mentioned.

Writing the report was a healthy exercise, because it helped us realize how far we’ve come in a relatively short time. But it was helpful for another reason: While we’ve kept a chronicle of our activities at this blog, the nature of blogging means the reader will read everything backwards… the most recent posting is the first thing you see. Writing a project summary forced us to put everything back into chronological order. (So, “in case you’ve just joined us,” it’s a great way to get caught up on this project!) Click here to open.


© 2008 Mike D. Anderson, Crystal, MN.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Sharing ideas for inland water restoration with the Ocean Conservancy

Back in January, Paul Nordell from the Minnesota DNR encouraged me to get in touch with several organizations, and let them know about our river restoration strategies. He was an early supporter of our project, and thought others would be interested by our approach, too.

We took Paul's advice, and did hear back from several groups. One of the most fascinating: the Ocean Conservancy. Specifically, I was invited to participate in a conference call with Sonya Besteiro and Katherine Sherman; they were hoping to hear more about our approach to geo-tagging large scale objects and oversized debris fields (aka “Geotrashing”).

Sonya is the Manager, and Kate is the Project Coordinator, for the organizations’ annual International Coastal Cleanup. Every September, volunteers “storm the beaches,” intent on removing trash and debris from coastal areas and waterways. Don’t let the reference to “coastal” fool you… the group boasts “project coordinators” in all fifty states, as well as five U.S. territories. And the word “International” is used with merit: The organization has a presence in 127 countries around the globe... and volunteers in 76 different countries participated in the 2007 cleanup. The effort resulted in the removal of more than 6 million pounds of trash.

One of the challenges (these are my words, not theirs): When all those volunteers show up, you don’t want them wasting time trying to figure out where their help is needed. Instead, you want those volunteers going right to work, removing pollution… not heading off on a scavenger hunt, unsure of where their effort will do the most good. As you can imagine, a successful clean-up involving this many people requires some exhaustive scouting work in advance... and thousands of these events occur simultaneously with each of the annual ICC events!

It was my pleasure to explain how we’ve been using digital photography and GPS tools to inventory the pollution problems here in Minnesota. Deploying this same approach, casual beach-combers, kayakers, boaters or hikers could begin to record where pollution problems exist… and a library could be created, offering the reconnaissance necessary to put the right number of volunteers in the right places to solve the most important problems. Maintaining such a catalog of "debris targets" could make the deployment of manpower more efficient and effective.

It was a delightful and intense conversation; these things happen when passionate people of like minds are focused on problems like ocean and river restoration. Sonya and Kate are remarkable people working for what I’ve come to realize is an amazing organization. I only hope our brainstorming session and subsequent dialogue will be as helpful to them as it was enlightening for me.

One of the wonderful byproducts of our conversation with the Ocean Conservancy is learning of the group’s presence right here in Minnesota. Sarah Erickson is the Director of Education at the Great Lakes Aquarium in Duluth… and she is also the project coordinator for the International Coastal Cleanup here in the land of lakes. I’ve already had one brief email exchange with Sarah, and know she’ll be a great resource.

Julie and I feel privileged to share ideas with folks like Sarah, Katherine and Sonya. As we indicated in a recent posting at, inland behaviors can have a profound impact on estuaries and oceans which wait far downstream. Gradually, we hope to grow our body of knowledge about the relationship between inland waters and the saltwater seas they're flowing into... at a site which serves as a companion to this blog, called

© 2008 Mike D. Anderson, Crystal, MN.

One (Earth) Day Isn't Enough

One of the best things to ever happen to the planet: Earth Day. According to Wikipedia, Earth Day was born in the Pacific Northwest back in 1969, with the idea of promoting conservation, preservation and care for the planet. With its’ early roots on college campuses, “Earth Day” is a bellwether event in bringing environmental issues to the front of the world’s newspapers and to the forefront of peoples’ minds.

Park systems, public service groups and activist organizations of all kinds get involved in Earth Day. It is a very good thing.

One of the worst things to ever happen to the planet: The day after Earth Day. An unfortunate byproduct of Earth Day is that, for some, it can create the illusion that a single day of stewardship is sufficient. That 1/365th of our time should be devoted to “supporting the cause” of environmental awareness or action. It's great that folks come out and volunteer... but it would be tragic if that single day of effort were to leave anyone with a false sense of accomplishment, or the idea that one day per year might be adequate to clean-up what needs cleaning.

Pardon my brief rant. And please don’t mistake the intentions of my remarks. It is important to celebrate Earth Day, and I’ll be doing it, too. But I encourage anyone and everyone to elevate their Earth Day frame of mind… to a lifetime of care and commitment.

© 2008 Mike D. Anderson, Crystal, MN.

High (water) marks for the USGS

It’s been a long winter, and we’re eager to get on the water to begin cleaning. Julie and I took a drive to the park where one of our surveys had revealed a lot of debris, in the hope of figuring out whether it would be possible to organize a clean-up for Earth Day.

It was not to be. The spring rains and snowmelt runoff leaves the Mississippi River too high for safe recovery efforts. The high water leaves literally no riverbank to walk… only a ledge that would put people at risk of falling into very cold and fast moving water.

So I went home and hit the web, with the goal of comparing the river level from September 29, 2007 (the date we surveyed this part of the river) to the river level this week. I found most of my answers at the US Geological Survey. But the web site only provided historic discharge (which is the volume of water moving through the river). I could not find a historic record of water level… which is what I was after. So I found a phone number for the USGS office in Mounds View, and was connected with Eric Wakeman. Within just a few minutes, Eric was able to provide me with precisely the 2007 annual watermarks I needed.

This is a valuable resource! Now, I can check-in to see the real-time river levels at… and compare the water depth today to that of the survey date. In other words, I’ll know when the water has receded far enough to again expose the items we inventoried last fall.

The USGS long been a resource to taxpayers and government agencies; today, it finds a new use in our river restoration projects. My thanks to Eric Wakeman, and all the folks at USGS.

© 2008 Mike D. Anderson, Crystal, MN.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

When you get help like this, even a challenging project can be... "a walk in the park"

On our Mississippi River survey trips last fall, we were seeing a lot of river bank for the first time (and much of this "first look" was coming from the seat of a 10’ kayak). We were considering the situation only from the perspective of the river, without regard to where the river sat, in relationship to the Twin Cities we know and love. There are some easy-to-recognize bridges, of course. But the buildings and landscape look different from this point of view.

After capturing digital photos and GPS waypoints of voluminous trash targets and debris fields, we had the winter and spring to see where all of these hot spots were, exactly. As luck would have it, many of the metro Mississippi clean-up sites we’ve identified lie within three different park districts. [Note: When you’re planning a river clean-up, it is critical to gain permission of the land-owners involved, giving volunteers access to the areas where a clean-up will occur.] Having our target areas within these park systems has served to accelerate the process.

First, it was my good fortune to get the help of Jeff Perry, the Park Operations Manager for Anoka County Parks and Recreation Department. Much of the shoreline which remains to be surveyed on this part of our adopted Mississippi lies on the eastern shoreline… and Jeff has let us know we need only to give him a call in advance of our clean-up efforts.

Next, Del Miller got me in touch with his colleague, Steve Fatsis, the Guest Services Manager for Three Rivers Park District. Upon hearing about our project, Steve was more than pleased to provide us with a season-long permit to use the Three Rivers access areas which lie on the western shore just south of I-694 in the Brooklyn Center area. The Three Rivers Park District took this area over relatively recently, and they see our initiative as another way they can jump-start the stewardship of this precious stretch of riverbank.

Last but not least, we got in touch with Tina Austin, the River District Crew Leader for Minneapolis Parks and Recreation. Tina is obviously a doer, and connected us quickly with Group Coordinator Arik Rudolph, and she has even led us to the gentleman in charge of the Boom Island park area on the other side of the river (and downstream). Further, Tina offered the cooperation of her department in disposing of items we recover from MP&R lands. (Again, Tina is obviously a doer!)

Navigating the proper channels.
When you're not familiar with the officials in charge of public lands, it can be time consuming to figure who to talk to, much less who's in charge. My wife and I would like to thank Jeff, Dell, Steve, Tina and Arik for making shortwork of the paperwork… and helping us get to the solution faster! When the weather and river levels allow… I’d rather be in the water—making it better—than sitting behind a desk trying to figure out how to get permission to do the right thing. Thanks to you all.

© 2008 Mike D. Anderson, Crystal, MN.

A busy winter, preparing for an even busier spring

If you were judging by the frequency of postings over the past month, you might think little was happening with our river restoration efforts. But while work (my real job) has been particularly demanding recently, it is also true that we’ve been “painting the corners” on evenings and weekends, gathering an important collection of additional connections and resources.

Like the relationship we already enjoy with the DNR offices in both Minnesota and Wisconsin, these new acquaintances will provide guidance, experience and other valuable assistance as we move forward.

For example, we were finally able to connect with a group called “Friends of the Mississippi” here in the Twin Cities metro area. Irene Jones took time to chat and introduce us to the rich history of this group of citizens. They are involved in stewardship efforts that run from Anoka to Hastings, including clean-up efforts which generally focus more on the central- and south-metro area (from the Stone Arch Bridge in downtown Minneapolis, southward through the area known as “The Gorge”), and in the Vermillion watershed. (I'm betting we can learn much from their experience and success.) Friends of the Mississippi has a record of consistency. They’ve been involved with river clean-ups for better than 15 years… and realize that river restoration takes more than an annual weekend event. According to Irene, they are also involved in land protection and restoration, water quality, land use and riverfront development issues in a variety of areas. In the Above the Falls area, their work focuses on land use, development and park planning. You can read more about their endeavors at

Irene has directed me toward a couple of other organizations and contacts that will provide valuable help going forward. It is a privilege to be among “Friends.”

© 2008 Mike D. Anderson, Crystal, MN.