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I have now had to the pleasure to lead the Minnesota River Basin's River Watch program for 1 year, and so I think it is time to release the Annual Report (see below).

It was an incredibly busy first year for me at the helm, and as such there is a lot of work detailed in the report. I feel so lucky to be apart of such an incredible program, empowering the next generation of scientists and stewards. While the report covers all of the programming, it relies on industry jargon and shorthand to communicate what the program and its participants achieved. What follows is my attempt to clarify the shorthand, and express the philosophical foundations for hands-on experiential place-based learning, that i witnessed play out across the last sampling season.

Hands-On Experiential Learning

No lesson is more impactful than the one we learn using our own two hands. This is where River Watch's philosophy of learning begins. By the time students participate in the River Watch program, they have spent years learning about water, chemistry, scientific observation, conservation, ecological dynamics etc. However, students are not typically familiar with the actual practices and equipment that professional scientists use to collect environmental data like water quality data. While there is some complexity to using this equipment correctly, students often just need the opportunity to get their hands on it and use it in the field to develop a competence with the sampling methods. It is so rewarding to see the students' confidence in their hands-on skills grow with each successive sampling session.

Using the equipment in its intended environment is an important part of the experience. In part, it helps demystify the image of "hard" science by demonstrating that with the right tools and a little know-how anyone can collect scientifically significant data. Fieldwork also provides a local context for the data. This not only grounds the data in a resources the student can experience first-hand, but also demonstrates the need for all people, professional and volunteer scientists alike, to be involved in the monitoring and care of their local resources. River Watch is guided by the idea that it takes all kinds of minds to collect meaningful data. My hope is that through the hands-on experience River Watch empowered as many young stewards to get involved in conservation as it did young scientists.

Placed-based Learning

Every River Watch team has a unique sampling experience because they are working with their own local water resources. By visiting the same site across the seasons, students gain a more complete picture of the specific factors impacting their local watershed. With the specific understanding of their local waters, students can focus their learning on strategies that are tailored towards improving the issues in their local water source. This is the essence of place-based learning.

The more time students can spend studying and exploring with the water resource, the deeper their bond with it will become. Developing this bond is crucial to fostering stewardship, because stewardship is built on a sense of responsibility to both the resource and those in your community who rely on it. (In this instance) One's sense of responsibility grows from understanding how you and your communities actions impact the watershed. It also grows from knowing how you can mitigate your community's negative impacts on the watershed. Once the impacts and mitigation strategies are understood, the only step left to become a steward is action. The likelihood any one person will take action to improve their local waters is directly related to their bond with the water and its surroundings. River Watch provides an opportunity for students to delve into the nuance of their local waters, providing both time to bond with the place, and information on what actions can be taken to improve the place's health.

In the coming year River Watch will work even harder to provide students meaningful avenues to act for the betterment of their local waters, and hopefully help students connect with the local waters they rely on.

FMV RW 2022 Annual Report
Download PDF • 11.17MB

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In 2008, the states and provinces surrounding the Great Lakes (Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and the provinces of Ontario and Quebec) joined together to manage and protect the largest collection of freshwater in the world. The agreement is known as the Great Lakes Compact. One of the main reasons the Compact was forged was to regulate water use from the Great Lakes.

There are 3 kinds of regulated water use:

Withdrawal - This includes any action that takes ground or surface water from the Great Lakes Basin

Consumptive Use - This includes any withdrawal that is not returned to the Basin because it is used up or lost to evaporation.

Diversion - This includes moving or transporting water from the Great Lakes Basin to any other watershed outside the Basin’s borders.

While the first 2 types mostly apply to entities within the watershed, Diversion regulates how water moves outside the watershed borders. To date, there is only one instance of an approved water diversion from the Great Lakes Basin to Waukesha, WI, a community on the border of the watershed. The rules for water diversion are strictly enforced, and any request for diversion must be approved by the Great Lakes Compact Council.

There is currently a national discussion surrounding the need to ship water to the Western United States to support the growing population and relieve the stress of persistent drought. The Great Lakes Compact Council will undoubtedly face requests for water diversion to the Western United States. Using the regulation tools created by the Compact, the Council can assess the potential impacts to the Great Lakes Basin and weigh them against the requests for water diversions. Without this legal collective, the Great Lakes would face growing pressure to divert water outside the Basin, and there would be no group to assess and regulate the impact of withdrawal, consumption, and diversions.

The Council wields regulatory powers that are becoming increasingly relevant as the United States faces clean water shortages. As such, it faces the dilemma of responsibility to protect the regional water use weighed against the needs of the greater United States.

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It has been eight years since Enbridge first proposed the replacement of the Line 3 oil pipeline. The pipeline became operational on September 30th, 2022. In the time between its proposal and completion, the pipeline drew heavy criticism and spurred years of protests. The resistance is lead primarily by the Anishinaabe and Chippewa people in northern Minnesota, as well as other Indigenous folk and water protectors in the Midwest.

Concerns about the pipeline stemmed from a number of issues: Enbridge's previous projects resulting in oil spill and the likelihood it will happen again, the need to divest from fossil fuels including the highly polluting tar sands carried by the pipeline, the wetland and forest destruction resulting from the building of the pipeline, the violation of the treaty rights of the Anishinaabe people, and the pollution of drinking water, aquifers, and waterways that sustain northern Minnesota.

With the completion of the projects comes an end to the construction. Now government agencies, including the MN Department of Natural Resources and the MN Pollution Control Agency, have completed their investigation into Enbridge's failure to comply with water quality permits. The resulting fines and fees will cost Enbridge around $11 Million, which amounts to less than 1% of Enbridge's revenue in 2022.

The Damages

- Enbridge breached 3 aquifers during the construction process. This would normally result in a stop to construction, but Enbridge did not notify the permitting authorities and continued construction, resulting the breach of the 3rd aquifer and the loss of over 25 Million gallons of freshwater pouring out of the ground. These aquifers provide drinking water to many northern Minnesota communities.

- Construction resulted in 28 spills of drilling mud, many of which were polluted with drilling fluid. This includes sites where rivers were drawn down and tunneled under to accommodate the pipeline. Enbridge failed to notify permitting authorities of the pollution sites, which leaves the true extent of the impacts unclear.

An official list of violation and fines was released by the MN Pollution Control Agency on October 17th, and can be found here.

This is case forces us to ask ourselves a number of important questions:

- In cases of environmental and/or human health, who bears the responsibility to prove the safety of a company's projects and methods?

- Are the current regulations and penalties enough to deter wealthy companies from move ahead with destructive ventures focused on short-term gain instead of long term sustainability?

- Can we continue to afford allowing companies to damage our dwindling natural resources and spaces?

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