Thursday, July 31, 2014

Raining on our parade?

An earlier posting on My Minnesota noted that the Metro Council's draft Northeast Water Supply Plan didn't yet address water conservation. Another question is whether the groundwater modeling that's being done will take into account the effect on groundwater recharge that's likely to occur over time as the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency's new (completed in 2013) Minimal Impact Design Standards (MIDS) for stormwater come into play.

impervious surfaces generate urban stormwater runoff
Photo by J. Harrington

A key provision, it would seem, is the requirement for
"Nonlinear redevelopment projects on site without restrictions that create one or more acres of new and/or fully reconstructed impervious surfaces shall capture and retain on site 1.1 inches of runoff from the new and/or fully reconstructed impervious surfaces.

"Linear projects on sites without restrictions that create one acre or greater of new and/or fully reconstructed impervious surfaces, shall capture and retain the larger of the following:
  • 0.55 inches of runoff from the new and fully reconstructed impervious surfaces
  • 1.1 inches of runoff from the net increase in impervious area"

precipitation laden storm clouds
Photo by J. Harrington

Over time, might we see sufficient groundwater recharge from following the new standards that, combined with a possible reduction in demand for potable groundwater due to water conservation retrofits, that we have materially affected which options might be preferable as a solution to the disappearing White Bear Lake? Further, do we think it would be helpful to know if there has been an evaluation of the anticipated change in frequency and intensity of precipitation events associated with global warming? A 2008 IPCC report on Water and Climate Change discusses such a pattern change. A 2009 report by the Union of Concerned Scientists on Climate Change in the Midwest notes:
"Precipitation is more likely to come in the form of heavy rains. Under either emissions scenario, Minneapolis-St. Paul is projected to experience a more than 66 percent increase in heavy rainfalls (defined as more than two inches of rain in one day) over the next few decades. Toward the end of the century, heavy rainfalls are projected to be almost twice as frequent under either emissions scenario. The maximum amount of precipitation falling within a one-, five-, or seven-day period is also projected to rise under both scenarios."
Not to seem flippant about any of this, but I'm starting to yearn for the good old days when our environmental issues were as simple as banning DDT and keeping our rivers from catching fire

In addition to the trials and tribulations managing our water properly can create, there's a whole series of very good reasons to better manage our impact on the hydrologic cycle and vice versa. Donella Meadows told us about them back in 1996.

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Please be kind to each other while you can.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Bees and butterflies are free!

My involvement with the Minnesota Chapter of the United States Green Building Council (USGBC Mn) has provide me with a welcome opportunity to do some writing and photography and blogging on each of the three Dynamic Green Homes (DGH) the chapter has worked on. Each of those projects has involved a rain garden. If you're interested, here's a link to the first DGH rain garden. Be sure to take a look at Part 2 while you're there. The two DGH rain garden projects currently underway were designed by the Capital Region Watershed District and Ramsey Conservation District. The list of plants to be used are all natives. No invasive species. Here's a link to the District's web page on Rain Gardens. Rain Gardens are becoming increasingly popular in Minnesota. There's even one, or two, depending on how you count, at our local library.

rain garden in bloom, Summer 2014
rain garden in bloom, Summer 2014
Photo by J. Harrington

So rain gardens are beneficial for ground water recharge, reducing polluted urban storm water runoff, and aesthetically attractive, depending on what's planted, and, they can also benefit our local pollinators, including bees and butterflies, again, depending on what's planted. Unfortunately, those of us in the sustainable development arena don't always do a very good job of connecting the dots for those trying to learn what it's all about. Neither the plant listing on the DGH pages about rain gardens, nor the District's page on Rain Gardens, mentions which rain garden plantings are also attractive to bees, butterflies and moths, so we haven't done as good a job as possible identifying yet another reason to have a rain garden. The folks at Blue Thumb do mention pollen and nectar near the bottom of their page on why do a rain garden, but they don't identify specific plants. Rain gardens are even appropriate in a greater Minnesota urban or suburban setting such as the Green Communities single family rehab pictured below, but can bee much more attractive with bee-friendly plants.

rain garden retrofit at a Northfield, MN rehab
Photo by J. Harrington

This limited dot connecting might have been more acceptable before we began learning our honey bees and monarch butterflies are in trouble and need help. But, now wet know and can appreciate the added value if we are aware of how to add it. I went in search on the Internet for some "connect the dot" information about rain garden plants and pollinators, and found a great resource through the Vermont "Smart Waterways" web site. It's a planting list for rain garden plants that specifically lists those flowers that are attractive to pollinators, by category. It turns out, not surprisingly, that many of the plants native to Vermont are also native to Minnesota. So, we can compare the planting list for the St. Paul rain gardens with the plants listed in the Vermont resource. When we do the comparison, we notice that trees and shrubs have no specific information about attractiveness to pollinators, but flowers do. All of the flowers in our local planting list serve pollinators. Fox sedge is supposedly wind pollinated and has no real flowers so it's not particularly beneficial to pollinators. All in all, though, we're doing pretty well. I'm not sure though if it's because we, and our partners, had pollinators in mind or if we just got lucky.

In many urban settings, rain gardens are complemented by green roofs (or the other way around). I'm not sure the photo below is a rural green roof, but neither am I sure what else it could be. Rain can trigger different responses in the wild or at home, even if we think we're at home in the wild.

old silo with a "rural green roof?"
Photo by J. Harrington


By Peter Everwine 

Toward evening, as the light failed
and the pear tree at my window darkened,
I put down my book and stood at the open door,
the first raindrops gusting in the eaves,
a smell of wet clay in the wind.
Sixty years ago, lying beside my father,
half asleep, on a bed of pine boughs as rain
drummed against our tent, I heard
for the first time a loon’s sudden wail
drifting across that remote lake—
a loneliness like no other,
though what I heard as inconsolable
may have been only the sound of something
untamed and nameless
singing itself to the wilderness around it
and to us until we slept. And thinking of my father
and of good companions gone
into oblivion, I heard the steady sound of rain
and the soft lapping of water, and did not know
whether it was grief or joy or something other
that surged against my heart
and held me listening there so long and late.

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Please be kind to each other while you can.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Climate Change change?

If I had college to do all over again, I think I might major in dot connecting. It seems to be a major challenge for most humans unless the dots are really close together and provide immediate feedback: like noticing you burn your hand every time you put it on a hot stovetop. For most of the world, global warming doesn't yet fit that immediate feedback model, although we're getting there. I spent mid-day at a USGBC-Mn quarterly meeting at which  the presentation topic was The Climate Reality Project: Local Impacts of Climate Change, and Solutions. I saw slides of increased numbers and intensity of severe storms, flooding, wildfires, drought impact plus charts of phenomenal increases in wind and solar energy development. (You can see much of what I saw, plus some other material, at this link.) The Metro Council is beginning to address climate change in its Thrive 2040 framework.
"Our region is already feeling the effects of climate change as we experience more severe weather events and temperature extremes. Severe heat waves have stressed people, agriculture and energy supplies. Increased frequency of severe weather is already increasing homeowner insurance premiums and repair costs of public facilities, as the City of Duluth experienced in the aftermath of torrential rains in 2012."
St. Croix River, Spring 2014 flooding
Photo by J. Harrington
As I skimmed through the text crafted by the Council, I mostly saw a listing of what they're already doing coupled with what they propose to do. (If you already have most of a regional open space system, reducing urban heat islands was not a primary motivator, its an added benefit. Anyway, I saw many worthwhile strategies laid out, but am left with the impression that the Council's current approach is akin to treating Ebola by lying down and taking a couple of aspirin. What I mostly think I saw was an implicit commitment to business as usual. I don't believe that's sufficiently responsive or responsible to the magnitude of the issues facing us all.

public rain garden for storm water management (and beauty)
Photo by J. Harrington

Before I headed to the meetings I had this morning and mid-day, I took some time to check several of the standard websites I try to review daily. I came across the GoodNewsNetwork's syndication of the Star Tribune's recent story about Minnesota's Green Step Cities. We don't have enough Green Step Cities and I'd like to see much more progress with this initiative. Thus, I'm pleased to note Council's draft plan acknowledges the GreenStep Cities program and proposes to proceed
"Identifying risks, best practices and model ordinances for climate change mitigation and adaptation in partnership with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency’s statewide Minnesota GreenStep Cities program;"
It's far from clear to me why the Council would limit itself to "climate change mitigation and adaptation" and its partnership to MPCA, but at least we're seeing some progress. Now, if we can get them to adopt some biophilia goals, we'll really be on our way unless Rachel Wetzsteon is correct.

Rain at Reading

By Rachel Wetzsteon 
We had gathered under a tent in the park
for some words before lunch and after separate mornings,
and when—twice—the poet said “capital,”
the lightning bolts that followed the noun
had me bolting too; I’d always suspected
God’s communist leanings, but now I regretted
how few exchanges we know
between craft and climate:

imagine a rhyme inciting a rainbow,
blood feuds bruising the sky,
hymns of forgiveness bringing a soft
new light to the faces watching the last act,
waltzes and songs and declamations—
this would be capital entertainment!—
locked in a clinch with open air.

But the lightning was as quick as it was loud.
The clouds dispersed,
and then so did the crowd.

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Monday, July 28, 2014

Will the REAL White Bear Lake problem please stand up?

I was pleased to note this morning that others are raising questions about the Metro Council's options for doing something about the shrinking White Bear Lake. Today Brendon Slotterback, at and Net Density, raises some questions that I think are extremely valid and worthwhile. It's a reassuring to have this kind of followup to the My Minnesota post of July 24. In fact, his questions inspired some hypothesizing and admittedly crude analysis. Follow along at your pleasure.

Table 2 from the Council's report

The Metro Council's Northeast Metro Draft Report notes that, for the 16 communities in the White Bear Lake study area, 2010 population is 157,422 with an average day water demand of 18.9 million gallons per day (MGD). After reading that, a quick hop on the Internet seemed in order, over to the MnDNR's web page on water conservation to see what they had to say about:


Data from the AWWA indicate that water use could be reduced as much as 33.5 gallons per capita per day (GPCD) by using water-efficient toilets, showerheads, and faucets that meet federal manufacturing standards. The water, wastewater, and energy benefits from replacing inefficient water fixtures should be part of a public education program. It is recommended that communities develop a long-term plan to retrofit public buildings. Retrofitting of public buildings will help promote educational efforts as well as demonstrate fiscal and environmental responsibility."
Unless a handy-dandy spreadsheet, it appears that if the 2010 water use in the 16 communities were reduced by a maximum of 33.5 gallons per day, the gross reduction would be about 5 MGD. (157,422 people X 33.5 GPCD = 5,273,637 GPD or ~ 5 MGD). What makes this number really interesting is that it represents between 25% and 30% of the 2010 average daily consumption, and is almost double the increase in consumption of 3.4 MGD projected for 2030. This entire savings isn't likely to be attainable, but it would go a long way to reducing the size of the problem and probably wouldn't cost 25 % of $600 million or so. If water savings and cost were proportional (I know, they're not) saving 25% of current demand or about 50% of increased demand isn't likely to cost $150 million, I wouldn't think. So where's the analysis of current use and the evaluation of conservation through retrofitting?

At a minimum, one additional question that appears to need exploration is how recent White Bear Lake levels compare to historical information for the entire period of record going back to 1924. Minnesota's DNR has that information on its web site but if you want to review more than the past ten years, say, the entire period of record, you need to down load the available data and use your handy-dandy spreadsheet to create a chart like the one below.

White Bear Lake elevation, source: MnDNR Lake Water Level Report

As I read the chart, White Bear Lake's recent levels have been somewhat below the earliest decade or so of the period of record, but, I assume, back in the 1920's and 1930's, there weren't as many people relying as much on groundwater for their water supply when the lake levels were still in the 920 - 922 range, in comparison with the more recent 919 - 920 range. This isn't to suggest there isn't an issue with White Bear Lake and consumption of groundwater. It does seem to suggest that recent levels aren't entirely without some sort of precedent and that a rigorous analysis of the problem might lead to an entirely different range of alternative solutions. What's the problem we're trying to solve here? Dannie Abse seems to understand.

The Water Diviner

By Dannie Abse 

Late, I have come to a parched land   
doubting my gift, if gift I have,   
the inspiration of water
spilt, swallowed in the sand.

To hear once more water trickle,   
to stand in a stretch of silence
the divining pen twisting in the hand:   
sign of depths alluvial.

Water owns no permanent shape,   
sags, is most itself descending;
now, under the shadow of the idol,   
dry mouth and dry landscape.

No rain falls with a refreshing sound   
to settle tubular in a well,
elliptical in a bowl. No grape
lusciously moulds it round.

Clouds have no constant resemblance   
to anything, blown by a hot wind,   
flying mirages; the blue background,   
light constructions of chance.

To hold back chaos I transformed   
amorphous mass—and fire and cloud—   
so that the agèd gods might dance   
and golden structures form.

I should have built, plain brick on brick,   
a water tower. The sun flies on
arid wastes, barren hells too warm   
and me with a hazel stick!

Rivulets vanished in the dust
long ago, great compositions
vaporized, salt on the tongue so thick   
that drinking, still I thirst.

Repeated desert, recurring drought,   
sometimes hearing water trickle,   
sometimes not, I, by doubting first,   
believe; believing, doubt.

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Please be kind to each other while you can.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Smoke and mirrors and bees and butterflies

Today does have a hint of September about it. The clouds here are moving north to south or slightly northwest to southeast. If your nose is working fairly well, a walk around the property smells like a trip through Willie Wonka's Chocolate Factory. Lots of cocoa bean hulls (shells?) have been spread around the apple trees and chokeberry bushes, so we're going to be cautious and keep the dogs away from the bushes and trees just in case they're tempted to eat the mulch and get dead. We've also translocated two chipmunks this weekend and the younger members of our little workforce cut down one of our smaller pine trees that was in an inconvenient location and is needed for some sort of arch or something for an upcoming wedding. The ground that had been shaded by the pine has been raked and planted with a perennial and hummingbird / butterfly mix. We'll see if we get germination and growth in what's left of Summer. Maybe next year we'll have an area that looks sort of like this.

black-eyed Susan growing at a roadside
black-eyed Susan growing at a roadside
Photo by J. Harrington

That would be good for the bees from the bee hives we hope to have by then. Today's Star Tribune has the second installment of Bees at the Brink by Josephine Marcotty. She cites the good folks from Bayer as noting that “But there is no link between them [neonicotinoids] and widespread colony losses.” I read that and I wondered if Bayer acknowledges the precautionary principle ("if an action or policy has a suspected risk of causing harm to the public or to the environment, in the absence of scientific consensus that the action or policy is not harmful, the burden of proof that it is not harmful falls on those taking an action"). I was also reminded of years and years of testimony from tobacco executives about there being no link between cigarettes and lung disease.
"In 1994, Rep. Waxman chaired a critical series of hearings on tobacco. Most significant was the one at which Chief Executive Officers of the nation's tobacco companies testified. This hearing put a human face on the tobacco industry for the first time. When the CEOs swore under oath that smoking was not addictive and did not cause any disease, it became clear to the American people that they were lying. This was the turning point in the battle against the tobacco industry."
I also thought back to the chemical industry's attack on Rachel Carson after Silent Spring was published. Then I found myself wondering just how dumb corporate interests think the American Public is. It's clearly profitable for corporate america to stall until the rest of us can find the smoking gun. Frankly, I prefer it the way Marcotty's report describes, that we (the public) don't need to wait for smoking guns to decide which way we want to go. I grew up in a neighborhood that lived by the adage "fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me." I haven't been fooled yet by following that adage and learning to "Trust but Verify." I think we could use less corporate commodity production in our farm sector and more real food production. Maybe then our roadsides would have more flowers and bees and butterflies. Think about it. Avis Harley has it right as far as I can see.

orange day lilies along a country road
orange day lilies along a country road
Photo by J. Harrington


By Avis Harley 

The butterfly was there
before any human art was made.
Before cathedrals rose in prayer,
the butterfly was there.
Before pyramids pierced the air
or Great Wall stones were laid,
the butterfly was there.
Before any human, art was made.

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Please be kind to each other while you can.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Summer's seventh inning stretch

This morning the difference in hatching dates among some of our local geese was pretty obvious. I suspect, given the growth rate of goslings, there may be only a week or two between some teenagers playing chicken on the local road  (see below)

young geese resting in the road
young geese resting in the road
Photo by J. Harrington

and those prepubescents still herded by goose and gander away from possible dangers like that creature taking pictures as they swim away (see below).

younger goslings escorted by their parents
younger goslings escorted away by their parents
Photo by J. Harrington

At the same time goslings are approaching the time for their first training flights, not far away Summer begins to signal it may have passed its peak. For the last few days, I've noticed increasing numbers of red leaves among the green of the local vines. They've been highlighted by the appearance of a few yellow leaves in the understory.

heat stress or Autumn signs sneaking in?
heat stress or Autumn signs sneaking in?
Photo by J. Harrington

If I weren't writing these blog posts, I probably would fail to pay as much attention to the daily and weekly changes that occur all around me, although a personal or nature journal might prompt mindfulness as well. I hope you enjoy these reports and that they encourage you to live and record an attentive, mindful, nature-full life. Remember, too, that it was this time of July when men first landed on the moon forty-five years ago. No Summer lulls for them.

First Men on the Moon

By J. Patrick Lewis

"The Eagle has landed!" —Apollo II Commander Neil A. Armstrong
"A magnificent desolation!" — Air Force Colonel Edwin E. "Buzz" Aldrin, Jr.July 20, 1969

That afternoon in mid-July,
Two pilgrims watched from distant space
The moon ballooning in the sky.
They rose to meet it face-to-face.

Their spidery spaceship, Eagle, dropped
Down gently on the lunar sand.
And when the module's engines stopped,
Rapt silence fell across the land.

The first man down the ladder, Neil,
Spoke words that we remember now—
“One small step...” It made us feel
As if we were there too, somehow.

When Neil planted the flag and Buzz
Collected lunar rocks and dust,
They hopped like kangaroos because
Of gravity. Or wanderlust?

A quarter million miles away,
One small blue planet watched in awe.
And no one who was there that day
Will soon forget the sight they saw.

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Please be kind to each other while you can.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Does it take an Einstein?

I've noted several times here (and elsewhere) that I came to Minnesota from New England, Massachusetts, specifically, and was actually born in Boston and grew up there and in several of its suburbs. This is of particular relevance because it seems to be hindering my ability to understand how Minnesota is managing, or not, its water. When, many years ago, Boston's thirst kept growing and needed to be quenched, the Massachusetts legislature authorized relocating the population of four towns and flooding them to create the city's water supply from Quabbin Reservoir. Of course, this was prior to the invention of Environmental Impact Statements, or else the mitigation measures required might have stopped the project and prevented "progress." In those days, the need to support growth often lead to untrammeled political action with limited concern about the social impacts. I believe Massachusetts had, and may still have, substantially fewer public agencies involved in creating and controlling public water supplies than does Minnesota. To provide some insight into Minnesota's water governance players, here's a graphic from the Minnesota Water Sustainability Framework. What isn't easy to read at the scale shown are the 90 Soil and Water Conservation Districts, the hundreds of cities and towns, the 87 counties and a multitude of watershed management organizations.

Under these circumstances, I suppose we should be grateful the situation isn't worse than it is. If you want an idea of how bad it's getting to be, check our own Minnesota Public Radio's Beneath the Surface series, which focuses on groundwater (which isn't really separable from surface water, as the folks around White Bear Lake have learned). Again, I remind you that I come from Massachusetts, where they create water czars and put them in charge of the Water Resources Authority. (Even with a water czar, if they ever try to create another reservoir, I want the job of leading the Environmental Impact Statement preparation. That should be full employment for two lifetimes.)

Duluth Harbor, St. Louis River
Photo by J. Harrington

I hope it's becoming clear that I have major reservations about whether Minnesota can muddle its way through to better management of our water resources with the institutional arrangements we currently have. I wouldn't suggest we need to create our own water czar (at least not yet), but I don't think we're going to get where we need to go if we just continue to coordinate and collaborate and cooperate until we voluntarily move ahead. Public agencies rarely volunteer to share their "turf". Furthermore, try to find accountability within the structure shown up above, even if the legislature and the executive approved the proposed changes (over and above the objections of some turf holders). It strikes me as unwieldy and unlikely.

I think we need to pay more attention and watch agency actions carefully as we move ahead with the White Bear Lake issue as a focus, or the Worthington water supply or... I also think it's time to take into account we're seeing more and more instances that unlimited growth is not sustainable on a finite planet and even Minnesota's water resources are finite. Our 10,000+ lakes can float loons and grow fish, but not if we pull the plug by drawing more groundwater than the lakes and rivers need. This is too important to leave to the experts. As Albert Einstein so wisely observed "No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it." Some of our experts are the ones who have brought us this Water Supply Plan. As a recovering planner, I recognize a reasonable planning document when I see one. I also remember the old planning dictum "more of the same never solved a problem." We have a water problem right here in River City, folks as James Tate shares a Quabbin visit.

 James Tate

Quabbin Reservoir

All morning, skipping stones on the creamy lake,
I thought I heard a lute being played, high up,
in the birch trees, or a faun speaking French
with a Brooklyn accent. A snowy owl watched me
with half-closed eyes. “What have you done for me
philately,” I wanted to ask it, licking the air.
There was a village at the bottom of the lake,
and I could just make out the old postoffice,
and, occasionally, when the light struck it just right,
I glimpsed several mailmen swimming in or out of it,
letters and packages escaping randomly, 1938, 1937,
it didn’t matter to them any longer.  Void.
No such address.  Soft blazes squirmed across the surface
and I could see their church, now home to druid squatters,
rock in the intoxicating current, as if to an ancient hymn.
And a thousand elbowing reeds conducted the drowsy band pavilion:
awake, awake, you germs of habit! Alas, I fling
my final stone, my callingcard, my gift of porphyry
to the citizens of the deep, and disappear into a copse,
raving like a butterfly to a rosebud: I love you.

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Please be kind to each other while you can.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Drilling, dowsing, or divining for answers?

This morning I noted with interest that the Metro Council has released an Executive Summary of their Northeast Metro Water Supply Draft Report. The article in the newspaper made no mention of where water conservation might be part of a solution (although many of the comments did mention conservation). [Full disclosure: I used to work at the Metro Council on water quality issues. Before that I worked at Boston's regional planning agency on similar subjects.] I assumed the reporter might have skipped over that section of the release/report, so I checked the Executive Summary of the report. (Will the full report be made available to the public?) The Summary doesn't mention conservation but notes that:
"Concurrent studies in the northeast metro area include:
  • Characterizing Groundwater and Surface Water Interaction in Northeast Metro Area Lakes, MN – in conjunction with the United States Geological Survey (USGS); scheduled for completion in 2016. 
  • Feasibility Study of Joint Water Utility – Cities of Centerville, Circle Pines, Columbus, Hugo, Lexington, and Lino Lakes – in conjunction with Barr Engineering Company; scheduled for completion in fall 2014."
Those concurrent studies don't look like they'd be a promising source of information on water conservation efforts, nor did I find any reference to how the problem and proposed solutions might fit within the "Minnesota Water Sustainability Framework" commissioned by the Minnesota Legislature in 2009.

Mississippi River at Minneapolis
Photo by J. Harrington

Back in the days when I was a practicing planner, before I became a recovering planner, I was taught that it was helpful to the public to have a clear framing of the problem being solved or the issue being considered. That lesson was reinforced by a former Minnesota state senator, later DNR Commissioner, and, still later, president of Minnesota's Freshwater Society, Gene Merriam. He always impressed me when he would bring a legislative hearing or committee meeting back on track, often in the wee hours of the morning, by asking "what's the problem we're trying to solve here?"I see from the concurrent studies that the Metro Council's efforts are intended to address some sort of water problem, but I'm not sure what, specifically, it is. Are they focused on restoring White Bear Lakes historical water levels; building a metropolitan water supply nucleus; reducing dependence on groundwater supplies? I think the White Bear Lake water level issue could use more of Senator Merriam's kind of thinking, and corresponding documentation to share with us.

My disappointment and frustration continued and grew. After having returned to a review of the Sustainability Framework, and seeing that, in Appendix G, written directions and a link to the web site (see above) were provided so there would be access to the most current Water Conservation Best Practices, I followed the link and discovered there is no such document or listing available on the site. (I suppose it's possible that the missing conservation piece in the Metro Council's work is hindered by the missing "best practices" piece from the U?) So, we are now looking at a proposed potential expenditure of more than $600 million dollars to augment White Bear Lake either directly of by reducing aquifer withdrawals but have no clear identification of how we will know if whatever is proposed is a success and even less sense on whether it may be an appropriate expenditure of public funds. I was never a big fan of the Reagan Administration, but I did find worthwhile guidance to" Trust, but Verify" and "Just Say No." So far, I think both of those apply to the proposed options identified by the Metro Council for the White Bear Lake water level issue.

Mississippi River near Lake Pepin
Photo by J. Harrington

Let me be clear:
  • I think the Water Sustainability Framework is a very worthwhile document and should be used to assess the process and the outcomes for the Metro Council's work on water supply and management. I hope the missing piece on Water Conservation Best Practices that I've requested from UMN WRC staff show up soon.)

  • I'm not against some sort of regional approach to a water level solution for White Bear Lake, but I think it should occur within a framework of acting on the Water Sustainability top three essential actions (the Recommendation references refer to sections in the Framework). The stated goal is followed by the top three actions. The first is most relevant here:
"Protect and restore water quantity and quality through comprehensive, integrated, and informed management and policy:
  • Revise water appropriations permitting (Recommendation A.1.b), and model the state’s water balance (A.1.a)
  • Comply with water quality standards through implementation plans for reducing pollutants (B.1.a) and bring farmers to the table to be part of this solution (B.2.a)
  • Address future contaminants (C.1.a, C.2.a)"
I believe that the sustainable management of Minnesota's water has emerged (surfaced?) as too significant an issue to be piecemealed to poor solutions that may cost lots of money. I also think that we've invested enough in our studies of our water resources framework that we should rely on that framework to frame issues and evaluate solutions as we move ahead. Conservation is almost always sustainable. What part of the solution is it in the metro area and the rest of Minnesota? The water Frost seeks won't meet our needs.

Going for Water

Robert Frost, 1874 - 1963 

The well was dry beside the door,  
  And so we went with pail and can  
Across the fields behind the house  
  To seek the brook if still it ran;  
Not loth to have excuse to go,
  Because the autumn eve was fair  
(Though chill), because the fields were ours,  
  And by the brook our woods were there.  
We ran as if to meet the moon  
  That slowly dawned behind the trees,
The barren boughs without the leaves,  
  Without the birds, without the breeze.  
But once within the wood, we paused  
  Like gnomes that hid us from the moon,  
Ready to run to hiding new
  With laughter when she found us soon.  
Each laid on other a staying hand  
  To listen ere we dared to look,  
And in the hush we joined to make  
  We heard, we knew we heard the brook. 
A note as from a single place,  
  A slender tinkling fall that made  
Now drops that floated on the pool  
  Like pearls, and now a silver blade.

Thanks for visiting. Come again when you can.
Please be kind to each other while you can.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Sand in the gears of main streets

For those of you who don't get the Sunday NY Times, I want to share a delightful Opinion Piece (pieces?) by seven poets responding to the question "Does Poetry Matter?" I read through the pieces while sitting on the patio and listening to the occasional call of a loon. I had the company, from time to time, of a chipmunk that has so far evaded the Hav-a-hart trap and a subsequent ride of several miles prior to release. I was having a very pleasant morning until I came across Jon Tevlin's column today, about Superior Silica Sands (SSS) and North Branch, and truck traffic impacts on Taylors Falls. Perhaps I've been overly sensitized to truck traffic by the heavy haulers (trailers and dumps) that have been pounding past the house for several days now as the township and / or the county "repairs" our gravel road somewhere south of here. Anyhow, we don't, and won't, have as much of a truck traffic problem (I hope) as Taylors Falls business and residents will experience if the deal between North Branch and SSS is finalized without protecting Taylors Falls "main street."

Taylors Falls public library
Photo by J. Harrington
When we wrote about this issue last week, we also mentioned transportation issues related to the shipment of actual oil and tar sands. If it weren't for fracking to increase our natural gas supply, I doubt the truck traffic on Minnesota State Highway 95 would present as much of an obstacle.  As we continue into the 21st century, it becomes more and more clear to me that, indeed, we are all in this together and the sooner we start acting that way the better off we'll all be. I don't think that North Brach and Taylors Falls would ever approach the level of animosity currently being displayed between Israel and Gaza, maybe more just like the Hatfields and the McCoys, or the Capone and Moran gangs. I wonder how many, if any, of this year's (and future) local elections might be affected by this issue?

St. Croix Falls and Taylors Falls
Photo by J. Harrington

Of course, having a state highway as your Main Street can be a mixed blessing. Wisconsin, for a number of years, as I recall, has had (may still have?) a program to route state highways around local "down towns." Those projects were frequently a source of questions and concern when "main street businesses" were afraid they'd loose visibility to drive-by traffic. According to the summaries linked in the preceding sentence, effects were more positive than not. How long would it take Minnesota to bypass downtown Taylors Falls? Would that be preferable for the community? Winona, another affected Minnesota community, is learning to cope with frac sand traffic and protesters. I remain troubled by the apparent lack of a venue for working out some sort of amicable resolution for this, and similar, issues. One of the keys to a sustainable society and a sustainable community is social equity. The way Taylors Falls may be affected by decisions intended to benefit North Branch and SSS seems to me to be very inequitable. Clearly, if this situation is any example, we have a lot of work to do to create a sustainable Minnesota, and it doesn't all have to do with environmental regulatory agencies. Perhaps we can find a way to prove Wordsworth wrong. Perhaps, not.


By William Wordsworth 

From low to high doth dissolution climb,
And sink from high to low, along a scale
Of awful notes, whose concord shall not fail;
A musical but melancholy chime,
Which they can hear who meddle not with crime,
Nor avarice, nor over-anxious care.
Truth fails not; but her outward forms that bear
The longest date do melt like frosty rime,
That in the morning whitened hill and plain
And is no more; drop like the tower sublime
Of yesterday, which royally did wear
His crown of weeds, but could not even sustain
Some casual shout that broke the silent air,
Or the unimaginable touch of Time. 

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Please be kind to each other while you can.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Can we talk?

If, like me, you follow the environmental news, you know there hasn't been much to be optimistic about for awhile. This morning I did come across some good news I want to share. The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency [MPCA], as part of their release of a survey of Minnesotans' three top water quality concerns learned that we want to be able to safely eat the fish we catch. The Agency also "admitted they don’t have a strong system for disseminating water quality information to the general public." Admitting you have a problem is the first step to solving it. The MPCA's web site has been reorganized and given at least a limited redesign. I commend the Agency for these efforts. As we've learned with global warming, and "O'BamaCare," scientists, technical types and policy wonks (that would be folks like me) need to communicate more effectively if we want to be able to convince the public and their officials to do something, anything, meaningful. It was encouraging to read “We’ve been working pretty hard to take this technical information and boil it down to something people want to read,” Rude-Young said.

late Spring, St. Croix River
late Spring, St. Croix River
Photo by J. Harrington

Back in 1972, the Muskie-Blatnik bill became Public Law 92-500, The Clean Water Act Amendments of 1972. That law set a 1985 goal of the elimination of the discharge of pollutants into navigable waters and an interim 1983 goal of water quality sufficient to support fishable and recreational uses our waters. We're still working toward those goals. I also recall that Congress set a 1949 goal of the “realization as soon as feasible of the goal of a decent home and a suitable living environment for every American family.” We continue to work toward the attainment of all of these goals and more. Unfortunately, the examples we've set ourselves in attaining water quality and housing goals don't bode well for our ability to successfully respond to our global warming situation. Maybe our fourth estate (the media) can assist us, and MPCA, and the legislative and executive branches understand the significance of failing to respond to clearly articulated, although complex, issues that affect all of us. Might it be possible that the media, and our environmental agencies, could help initiate a national dialogue to replace out national gridlock? If so, I'll sign up right now to help. How about you? It's not always as simple as Sharon Chmielarz would have us think.

New Water

By Sharon Chmielarz 
All those years—almost a hundred—
the farm had hard water.
Hard orange. Buckets lined in orange.
Sink and tub and toilet, too,
once they got running water.
And now, in less than a lifetime,
just by changing the well’s location,
in the same yard, mind you,
the water’s soft, clear, delicious to drink.
All those years to shake your head over.
Look how sweet life has become;
you can see it in the couple who live here,
their calmness as they sit at their table,
the beauty as they offer you new water to drink. 

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Please be kind to each other while you can.

Monday, July 21, 2014

A legacy of roots?

Have you read Richard Louv's Last Child in the Woods - Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder? It's been several years since I read it. I may want to re-read it after I finish assimilating last night's dinner table comment from the Daughter Person. She reminded us that she likes her doses of nature in day-trip sizes, not overnight camping sizes. We tried, when she was younger, to get her more engaged with outdoor activities, including some overnight camping. From her comments yesterday, I believe we've ended up with one of those cup half full or half empty situations. By the same token, my mother always hoped I'd grow up to be a doctor, specifically, a neurosurgeon. I think she loved me despite the disappointments I brought into her life. I'm constantly grateful that my own Daughter Person hasn't caused me the worries I caused my parents. Do you think that does actually worry about their fawns?

doe with two fawns
Photo by J. Harrington

Earlier today I finished reading an essay on biophilia by David W. Orr. He notes that
"The capacity for biophilia can still be snuffed out by education that aims no higher than to enhance the potential for upward mobility, which has come to mean putting as much distance as possible between the apogee of one’s career trajectory and one’s roots. We should worry a good bit less about whether our progeny will be able to compete as a “world-class workforce” and a great deal more about whether they will know how to live sustainably on the earth."
I'm certainly far from what I consider my New England roots, but it was there that I learned much of what I know about living sustainably, most of it related to hunting and fishing and clamming and foraging. My parents weren't particularly drawn to nature, but they were as accommodating as they could be to their children who, for some unaccountable reason, spent as much time as they could get away with in the woods, along streams and at the ocean. When I got older, Minnesota offered the prospect of trout fishing and grouse hunting, as well as a job helping to restore water quality. It was only after I arrived that I learned about the goose hunting to be had in the western parts of the state. Do geese and ganders concern themselves with how goslings turn out?

goose, gander and teenagers
Photo by J. Harrington

Clearly, I moved here with a severe case of biophilia and wouldn't have stayed if Minnesota's environment didn't support what I find important to my quality of life. Part of the values I've shared with my children is that nature is worthy of our respect and affection for all the gifts she gives us, including beauty. These days, as I listen to more and more talk focused on creating jobs at almost any cost, so that more of us can have more of, and the biggest, and best, and latest of everything, I doubt that a Minnesota governor will ever again end up on the cover of any national magazine, holding a Minnesota fish, describing "the good life" in this state. If I'm right, I think we'll have lost more than we could ever gain, including priceless things that money really can't buy, such as community and interdependence. Do you think our children will be able to enjoy a good life in Minnesota if their roots only hold them until an offer of a job in a distant state or country comes along with more pay? Those kind of shallow roots belong to tumbleweeds, not people. I don't think rootlessness is the way to enjoy a sustainable life. Is that the legacy we really want for our children? Might we heed John Pillar's vision?


By John Piller 

            Mendota, Illinois 

It's easy to believe you can go back
Whenever you desire, jump in the car
And drive, arrive at dusk—the hour

You recall most vividly—and walk
Among the buildings spread across the farm,
Out toward the pastures, woods, and fields.

There is music in the leaves, in the dense
Columns of green corn. The wind lays down
The tune. You can play it, too, simply

By walking with eyes closed, arms
Stretched out, lightly striking the stalks.
Who wouldn't desire, like the children

Lost in so many similar fields,
To sit down on the turned earth and drift
Away on the rhythms of his own

First possible death? Rescuing
Voices come closer, veer off. Flashlight beams
Strobe over your head. You do not care.

Each building you remember—hen house,
Sheep shed, corn crib, barn—caved in upon itself,
The walls and roofs collapsing with a final

Percussive clap, since you last walked those fields.
No one you will ever know works that land now.
It is as green as Eden. Life rises in the roots, in the leaves.

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Please be kind to each other while you can.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Missed opportunity?

Those of us who live "up North" recently have been the recipients of some visits and subsequent write-ups from folks whose blogs are normally metro-urban centric. The St. Paul Real Estate Blog had fun last Friday with a photo of the Eichten's buffalo. Before that, did a nice write-up on their recent visit to Chisago City, Lindstrom and Central City. Since turn-about is fair play, I thought I might share some thoughts that were triggered by a recent Burl Gilyard report that I saw in MinnPost. (My Minnesota continues to believe that creating great cities is one of the best ways to protect great natural areas.) Now, to be clear, this posting is focused on the Snelling and University TOD development Gilyard mentions, not the 7 Corners site.

One point that seems to be missing from the MinnPost article, that really caught my attention when I did a little digging, is that, although the article mentions "$64.3 million in infrastructure costs at the site," it doesn't seem to have included a detail, that $40.2 million of the total infrastructure cost would be for structured parking [see above and page 13 of the report]. Perhaps that amount of structured parking has become standard for TOD, but investing (expending) two-thirds of a project's infrastructure cost on structured parking for a "transit village" seems oxymoronish (is that a word?). When I worked for the City of Minneapolis, I was involved in several potential Transit Oriented Development efforts. As part of my due diligence, I became somewhat familiar with the Oakland, CA TOD project known as Fruitvale. There's a case study available online, from which this quote is taken:
"To encourage balanced, mixed-use development, a new zone was created for the Fruitvale station area, combining residential, commercial and civic uses such as child care, education and health care. The zone allows the highest residential densities in the neighborhood. An overlay zone reduces parking requirements in the station area by half, although BART required all original parking capacity be replaced. An overlay zone created especially for Fruitvale required one space for every two units, cutting in half the city’s usual one space per unit minimum. [emphasis added]

The other aspect of the Fruitvale development that seems at variance from what I've found so far, in either the TOD Redevelopment Strategy Report or the University and Snelling Station Area Plan, is a clearly documented description of the affected neighborhoods' visions and goals. Again, from the Case Study
"Through a grassroots process involving numerous community meetings and charettes in multiple languages reflective of the many cultures and ethnicities in Fruitvale, the community suggested a mixed-use village with retail shops, community services and mixed-income housing."
The potential benefits of such an approach as that followed by the folks in Oakland was reinforced for us when, awhile ago, I read about how a truly creative developer used crowdfunding (among other approaches) to engage the neighborhood and future users of a project in a charrette process that appears to offer a potential to be truly transformative. Perhaps there's still time for city and metropolitan leadership to show the creativity of which they're capable by adapting the kind of examples mentioned here rather than creatively finding money to throw at what, at first reading, appears to be a fairly typical development proposal with limited potential to transform the surrounding neighborhoods. I hope this brief review will help St. Paul, the Metro Council and the affected neighborhoods create some great city places at Snelling and University.

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Please be kind to each other while you can.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Mid-Summer status report

Mid-morning, cloudy sky, nice breeze that keeps down the deer flies and mosquitoes if you're out in the open, which I'm not. I'm sitting in the screen porch, reading, and really enjoying, The Man Made of Words: Essays, Stories, Passages by N. Scott Momaday. Over the top of my book, I see first one doe come out of the woods on the north edge of the yard [enter, stage right]. A few moments later another doe follows the first. They slowly pick their way along the slope to the top of our little hill. I'm not sure what they're feeding on. One seems interested in the clover planted in the path and a few spots in the yard. The other is in the midst of this Summer's prairie restoration where there is no clover. Deer are predominantly herbivore ruminants so maybe she's eating the sheep sorrel or the hoary alyssum. (For the record, Mother Nature's record setting rain this Spring and early Summer did more to restore the prairie than anything we've tried.) So, I'm sitting here with my Better Half, we're enjoying watching the two does and I'm wondering why I'm not seeing any fawns. Suddenly a fawn bursts from the woods where the second doe had emerged. I can almost hear the plea "Wait for me, Mom!," as I remember the number of times I've become exasperated by a dawdling toddler or puppy and started to go on ahead, only to be halted by a similar whine.

whitetail doe in Summer
whitetail doe in Summer
Photo by J. Harrington

The first spotted fawn soon was joined by another, but the second fawn came out of the woods from a direction none of the first three deer had used. Was I looking at two does , each of whom had a fawn, or a grandmother, daughter and two granddaughters extended family? I'll never know, just as I'm not sure whether the orange and black butterflies I've seen recently are monarchs or their lookalike,. I am fairly sure that it's Canada thistle I've seen blooming all over several nearby roadsides. I'm also noticing a number of plants such as goatsbeard already going to seed.

Photo by J. Harrington

I haven't yet figured out any "productive" use for my growing knowledge of local plants and critters, but it does make me feel better knowing, and learning about, my neighbors. That's good enough. I also feel better having learned that there's an actual word for a malaise from which I've been suffering for some time. The word is ""solastalgia." I discovered it on Sheila Packa's blog (see sidebar). She also has a "real" web site here. I'm currently reading Migrations, which she edited, and will soon start Night Train Red Dust: Poems of the Iron Range, poems that she wrote.

Thanks for visiting. Come again when you can.
Please be kind to each other while you can.

Friday, July 18, 2014

A tale of two (or more) futures

Conservation Minnesota recently shared what I consider a very encouraging bit of news. The blog posting I'm talking about was written by "Kathleen Schuler, Healthy Kids And Families Program Director at Conservation Minnesota and Co-Director of Healthy Legacy." It's called Healthy Jobs for a Healthy Economy and is about a major new initiative on the Iron Range, one that could help bring about a sustainable economy for that area.

Calumet, on the Iron Range
Calumet, on the Iron Range
Photo by J. Harrington

The degree of interest in job creation on the Iron Range seems to be almost the antithesis of the interests of the folks participating last week in the IMAGININGS activity for the lower St. Croix Valley. During the IMAGININGs, there was concern that, sometimes, too much attention was being focused on economic development of downtowns. Perhaps it had something to do with local awareness that the St. Croix has already gone through the fur trade, lumbering, tourism and recreation, and is now on the fringes of a growing metropolitan region. Perhaps it was due to the relatively short time frame of the exercise, what will the area be like in 2034. The differences in focus between the Range and the Valley made me do some more thinking about what art and sustainability can bring to the questions of the futures we're creating. That "s" at the end of "future" is not a typo. It used to be that we lived in a world in which we could envision a desirable next step that usually involved more of what we already had in some slightly "new and improved" arrangement.

a tranquil, at the moment, St. Croix River
What do the futures hold for the St. Croix?
Photo by J. Harrington

The world we live in these days doesn't have enough "more" to go around. Yet it seems to be most capable of producing greater levels and intensities of conflicts over things like oil exploration and transport, mining of non-ferrous metals, and water quality and quantity, even in a water-rich place like Minnesota. Artists and the arts can bring an alternative, holistic, whole systems ecology perspective to the issues and concerns that are troubling us these days. Can Minnesota become an international leader in such an initiative? Yes? Will it? We'll see. I'm hoping the St. Croix Valley will be a place to start. If we don't want to end up up the river without a paddle, we shouldn't put all our eggs in one basket (or reduce our futures down to one). Top that for a mixed metaphor, have a great weekend in your immediate future and look below to see what Peter Bethanis has to say about our previous American Future.

American Future

By Peter Bethanis 

In 1963 the morning probably seemed harmless enough
to sign on the dotted line as the insurance man
talked to my parents for over an hour
around a coffee table about our future.
This roof wasn't designed to withstand meteors
he told my father, who back then had a brush haircut
that made his ears stick out, his moods
still full of passion, still willing to listen,
my mother with her beehive hairdo,
smiling back at him, all three of them
wanting so much to make the fine print
of the world work. They laughed
and smoked, and after they led the man
politely to the door, my parents returned
to the living room and danced in the afternoon light,
the phonograph playing Frank Sinatra,
the green Buick's payments up to date,
five-hundred dollars safely in the bank—
later that evening, his infallible common sense
ready to protect us from a burst pipe or dry rot,
my father waded up to his ankles in water,
a V of sweat on the back of his shirt.
Something loomed deeper than any basement
on our block, larger than he was,
a fear he could not admit was unsolvable
with a monkey wrench or a handshake and a little money down.

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Please be kind to each other while you can.