Sunday, March 29, 2009

A giant leap for our project, courtesy Tim Brown at MPRB

The whole concept of Geo-Trashing came from our time on the north metro Mississippi River. We took on this stretch of river knowing there would weekends when we could not find the time to head for one of our more remote adoption sites. And we were overwhelmed by the amount and type of debris we would discover. There were discarded appliances, tires and other auto parts, construction debris, safes… an unimaginable variety of junk. We realized, early on, that we could not possibly remove it all... at least, not on our own.

That’s when we decided that a problem well stated is half solved; we would help “define the pollution problem” by taking an inventory of all the debris that needs to be removed. We began the process of collecting digital photographs of the junk, and GPS waypoints of where it rests. Then, we could either build a plan to grab the junk on our own, or hope for the help of additional volunteers.

A major development on the Mississippi. Last fall, I had the privilege of meeting Tim P. Brown, P.E., the Environmental Operations Manager for Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board. In what has turned out to be a picture-perfect example of public/private partnership, Tim has offered a plan that will help clean the vast majority of our north metro Mississippi adoption area.

By last fall, we had already gathered an extensive inventory of the debris targets on this stretch of the river. Well, as it turns out, the Minneapolis Parks and Recreation Board has acquired significant additional property along this stretch of the river. Over the next three to five years, considerable re-development will take place, affecting these newly acquired properties as well as existing MPRB lands.

Tim had a great proposal: I would provide him with a copy of our GPS maps in a language that is ARC-compliant maps (the common computer language used by most government agencies when it comes to mapping), they would include the recovery of those trash targets into those development plans. A few weeks ago, I was able to provide Mr. Brown with maps in .gdb, .gps, .gpx and .mps languages; the .gpx and .gps versions turned-out to be files that could be translated into the ARC-compliant language he was after. That means that ultimately, various contractors involved in the redevelopment would be given a map of the trash targets in their project area, and assigned the task of removing those items as a part of the redevelopment.

I cannot overstate the enormity of this help! This development will affect a huge piece of geography, essentially covering the areas along the Mississippi River south of 57th Avenue North, all the way to Boom Island near downtown. (Much of the land along this stretch which is not under MPRB jurisdiction is, for the most part, industrial.) To gain an understanding of just how significant this area is, revisit the summary map we published back on March 3rd.

There will still be some light trash and floatables to remove along this entire stretch of waterway. But as a result of this development, I can now place significant focus on the northern portion of our adoption area, beginning at Rice Creek Park in Fridley, flowing southward to 54th Avenue North. And as far as heavy debris items are concerned, much of the west bank work has already been finished. (The work we documented in video last fall occurred primarily on the west side of the river, north of 57th Avenue North.)

Our deepest thanks to Mr. Brown for recognizing this opportunity to enhance the efforts of the public agency he serves… by using our humble inventory of trash as a map to a more beautiful river. He has shown that “public/private cooperation” can be more than a campaign slogan used by politicians; indeed, he has made it a common sense reality, and we’re delighted to work with him to make the parks—and the Mississippi—more enjoyable for all.

Note: North of 57th Avenue on the west bank, there is still one oversized tank (perhaps some kind of a compressor or LP tank) that awaits recovery, but it won’t be accessible until mid- to late-summer. But aside from that, I believe all the large objects in this area have been removed. A considerable pile of construction debris and some other items await removal on the west bank between 54th Avenue and 57th, which is Three Rivers Park District land. And the recurring light debris will need to be removed on both the east and west banks north of 54th Avenue. (Especially on the south border of River Ridge Park on the east bank; a large spillway in that area has contributed to a massive field of floatable trash, such as beverage bottles, soda cans, drinking cups, etc.)

© 2009 Mike D. Anderson, Crystal, MN.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

The trash revealed by the snowmelt

Back in January, we renewed our commitment to focus on “floatables,” as one of the most preventable—but pervasive—pollution problems affecting our waterways.

The recent snowmelt is a great reminder of just how much trash accumulates in the streets and parking lots in any population center. I snapped a couple of shots on my cell phone camera. Both photos were taken Saturday, March 28, 2009. The first is in the parking lot of a movie theatre, located in a shopping center in Maple Grove. The second shot is in the parking lot of a big-box store in Fridley (about a quarter-mile from the Mississippi River, as the storm sewer flows). Both are the residue that remains after piles of snow, plowed to clear the lot, have melted away. It demonstrates, in one consolidated glance, just how much crud we throw out of our cars when we’re walking out of a theatre or store, or navigating a simple parking lot.

You have seen me assert that every street and storm sewer is a tributary that leads eventually to the Mississippi River. The plastic you see in these pictures will not simply evaporate. It will wait for the rain to wash it into the river… or for an astute store manager or property manager to come and clean it up.

© 2009 Mike D. Anderson, Crystal, MN.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

To whom shall we direct this question?

I could not have predicted the immense education I would gain from launching this project... just on the topic of jurisdictional controls… and sometimes competing interests. A great example is the 9.7 mile segment of the Mississippi River that we have adopted. With its designation as a federal waterway and national waterway, it is technically policed by both the Coast Guard and the National Park Service. But I’ve been pulled over (yes, in my kayak, to check my license) by the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Department… and I know the waterways and adjacent landings to also be patrolled by the Brooklyn Center, Fridley, and Minneapolis police departments, as well as Anoka County Sheriff’s Department, Three Rivers Park District staff and the Minneapolis Park Police. Most of the public facilities along this stretch are maintained by either Anoka County Parks and Recreation Department, Three Rivers Park District, or the Minneapolis Parks and Recreation Board.

Of course, the same stretch of river is overseen by the MN Department of Natural Resources.
And as if all of that wasn’t enough, when it comes to discharge into the river, each of the Cities along the river has a storm sewer system that drains into the waterway. And the Mississippi Watershed Management Organization helps guide how many of these organizations all work together.

So when you have a question, who do you ask? Anyone. The one thing you discover about this task is that jurisdictions sometimes overlap, interests sometimes compete, and organizations do not always agree about the best way of doing things. But most everyone you’ll talk to agrees that the river needs better protection than we have given it… and anyone who’s trying to clean it up is okay in their book.

My default source of information is often the Adopt-a-River program at the Minnesota DNR. Program coordinator Paul Nordell either has the answer, or knows who to ask. And he has never been less than passionate about helping anyone who wants to help the river.

© 2009 Mike D. Anderson, Crystal, MN.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

A perspective of the task ahead

This winter, I have been working to update our "inventory" of trash targets. The goal is to match dozens of GPS waypoints with their corresponding digital photo. Together, these "geotags" and photos will each identify a debris field or dumped object. I still have plenty of this organizing to do, but I can give you a preview that illustrates just how complete our inventory of trash targets has become.

Look at the map below... and feel free to scroll around, zoom in, and snoop around. Each pointer or flag you see on this map below represents a debris field or dumped object (ranging from tires to appliances to construction debris, and yes... more safes). Keep in mind that this map represents just a 9.7 mile stretch of the north metro Mississippi River (our Adoption Site #3).

There is much to clear. But a recent development may lead us to a plan that helps clear many of these trash targets very soon. More later!

View Larger Map
© 2009 Mike Anderson, Crystal, MN.

Kind remarks from the folks at Minnesota Waters!

As many readers of this blog already know, cleaning crud out of a river can be a humbling experience. You go out in a canoe or kayak you take great pains to maintain, keeping it in ship-shape through the most brutal of seasons... and you load it up with sloppy, muddy, slimey crud. Or, you slosh around on a slippery riverbank knowing you'll never be able to wear these shoes and jeans again, because of the abuse you're subjecting them to!

Of course, there are great rewards that make the project very worthwhile. In your wake, you leave behind a place that is nicer than when you started, and your eyes are the first to take it all in. But also, this nicer place will be appreciated by many who follow, and hopefully, help keep it clean and pristine for years to come.

Another reward is when peers you respect get excited about what you're doing.

Today, I got an email from Carrie Maurer-Ackerman, the Program Coordinator for Minnesota Waters. She let me know that a story about our project would be published in the Spring 2009 newsletter/tab. It turned out really nice, thanks to the hard work of Jamison Reginek, the author of the story and a dedicated intern for MN Waters. You can visit the organization's web site at, or surf right to the complete newsletter by clicking here. The group also gave us permission to create some reprints. So you can click on the image below to enlarge the story, or download a copy by clicking here.

Our thanks to Minnesota Waters for their kind remarks about our project.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Today at the Capitol, the river was heard

It was my privilege to testify today before the Senate Committee on the Environment and Natural Resources at the Minnesota State Capitol Building. My testimony was requested by Senator Ann Rest, who has renovated and re-introduced a Plastic Bag Recycling bill, now known as S.F. No. 267. (A similar bill was introduced last year by Senator Ellen Anderson, but it timed-out. Senator Rest took up the cause, “at the urging of one of her constituents.”)

Several weeks ago, I wrote Senator Rest (and members of the Environment & Natural Resources Committee) to encourage the re-introduction of this measure. My motives are quite simple: Based on the many miles and hours I have logged on our rivers, I know that what is being done now is insufficient. Plastic bags continue to represent a significant share of the “floatables” that we recover during our clean-up efforts. If more of them were captured for recycling, then fewer would end up in our landscapes, lakes, and rivers. This is an issue which can be more economically prevented than solved.

To this point, has remained fairly pure in its focus, speaking to matters of river restoration… ranging from geo-tagging the targets which need to be removed, to actual riverside clean-up efforts. It has remained fairly (albeit not completely) free of political debate. In an effort to keep it that way, I’ll reserve details of my testimony for our sister site,

I'll just add that there were a few different people in the hearing room today who spoke against the idea of this recycling bill. It is worth noting that while I shall not profit from the passage of this measure, each of the people who spoke against it represented industries or companies who will profit from its defeat. Still, I was given an equal measure of time to share my testimony. I liked that. Whether or not this bill prevails, and regardless of the final form it takes, it is important to appreciate that I was allowed to speak on behalf of the rivers we aspire to protect… and I was heard.

Thank you for that opportunity, Senator Rest, and thanks to each member of the Committee.

© 2009 Mike Anderson, Crystal, MN.