"At last the Presque Isle is quiet, but it has left memories that will ripple for years."
So writes Jim Rada in his Upper Midwest kayaking guidebook Northwoods Whitewater, and so reads the trophy awarded to the winner of the extreme whitewater kayaking race held in his honor on Upper Michigan's Presque Isle River this past weekend.
For a handful of weeks every spring when the snow melts, the creeks and rivers that plummet down steep hillsides into Lake Superior become powerful, cascading class V whitewater kayaking destinations that draw paddlers from around the country. Rada, an astronomy professor and expert kayaker, introduced many paddlers to the little-explored rivers. His guidebook, for many years unpublished, became like "kayaking gospel," according to his friend and fellow paddler John Kiffmeyer.
Rada died 10 years ago of a heart attack while paddling the Presque Isle River, which drops in a series of waterfalls through Upper Michigan's Porcupine Mountains State Park to Lake Superior. Ever since, his friends have held a race on the river in his honor.
Racers jockey for position at the start of the 2013 Jim Rada Memorial Presque Isle River Race on May 18. At the start of the race, John Kiffmeyer sprinkled some of Rada's ashes into the river, "so he would make the journey with them," his widow Karen Jensen said.
Rada's widow, Karen Jensen, who he met kayaking, says over 20 paddlers came to paddle the river in honor of her late husband. She says many of the kayakers were young, in their 20s -- people she had never met.
They had all used my husband's book to find rivers," she said. "It was so joyful for me to see more people getting out to experience the rivers."
The participants in the Jim Rada Memorial Presque Isle River Race on May 18. They started en masse, paddling over a series of falls to Lake superior. John Kiffmeyer, of Asheville, NC, with the beard in the back row, organized the race, and won it.
Earlier that day she had looked back through Rada's book, Northwoods Whitewater, and had found this quote. "Rivers really need friends." The reason he wrote the book, she said, was "because he wanted to help people be friends with the rivers."
And here, 10 years after his death, on a glorious spring day when the water ran high and warm -- perfect kayaking conditions -- was proof that he had.(0 Comments)
Drones are a hot topic as use expands and the privacy debate continues in Congress and on social media.
The use of small unmanned aircraft by the Grand Forks Sheriff's Department is attracting journalists from around the world. This week, when I observed a training session in Grand Forks, a crew from the NHK television network in Japan was also on site filming the exercise. Reporters were recording segments in Japanese and English.
Al Frazier, the deputy sheriff and University of North Dakota instructor who is managing the drone integration project, said that in the past two months he's also hosted crews from French and German TV.
Frazier said he welcomes the media attention because it helps stimulate a healthy public discussion about the use of drones.
The attention comes before a hearing Friday by a U.S. House Judiciary Subcommittee: "Eyes in the Sky: The Domestic Use of Unmanned Aerial Systems."
Middle and high school students from around the world are sharing their clean water science projects via video chat this week.
The WaterRediscover initiative is coordinated by North Dakota State University. Seven teams from Bangladesh, India, Saudi Arabia, West Fargo, N.D., and Hudson, Wis., gave 15-minute presentations May 15 on how they designed, fabricated and tested water treatment and wastewater recycling technology.
NDSU Assistant Professor Achintya Bezbaruah, whoi coordinates the international science project, said it helps connect students who are interested in science and math.
The students work with very little money, so they use materials that are readily available where they live. Some American students went dumpster diving to find plastic bottles and other materials for their project.
International students often believe Americans have unlimited resources, Bezbaruah said, and they are surprised to learn students in the United States face economic constraints.
Bezbaruah said the project also exposes students to cultural differences they might not experience firsthand until they are older.
The University also looks at the project as a recruiting tool. It's important to develop the NDSU brand in countries like India and Bangladesh, Bezbaruah said, because the university wants to recruit the best American and international students to study science and math.
This is the second year the WaterRediscover project has been held.
Bezbaruah hopes to expand the program to more countries in the future.
Posted at 3:43 PM on May 10, 2013
by Conrad Wilson
MPR Photo/Conrad Wilson
ISLE, Minn. -- People around Lake Mille Lacs and northern Minnesota often say that the state's walleye opener is "like a holiday."
But this year, the big story in those parts is that ice still covers many of the lakes north of the Twin Cities.
Some eagerly await the annual ice out, a rather obvious term that refers to the ice being absent from the lake. But it turns out it's a loosely defined term.
The Minnesota State Climatology Office defers to local newspapers to deem the official ice out date.
But even then the date differs for each lake.
Some define it by most of the ice being gone, while other say ice out is when travel around the lake is relatively unrestricted.
Records show 1950 was a similar year to this one, with ice out for many lakes delayed well into May.
Image courtesy of the Mille Lacs Messenger
The headline from the May 16, 1950 edition of the Mille Lacs Messenger reads, "Mille Lacs Opens - Hordes of Fishermen Battle Ice."
With ice still covering most of Lake Mille Lacs, it's possible this year could set a new record. The same can be said for lakes further north.
Leech Lake's latest ice out date is May 23, 1950. The same goes for Lake Vermilion. Lake Bemidji is on record with May 22, 1950 ice out date.
Just last year many of these same lakes set record early ice out dates.
"Large interannual variations are not uncommon in a mid-continental climate," notes Greg Spoden, state climatologist for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. "The extraordinary flip-flop of lake ice-out dates is an example of this variability."
Posted at 12:52 PM on May 10, 2013
by David Cazares
By Dan Gunderson
The oil and gas boom in North Dakota might mean lower operating costs for farmers across the Midwest.
The North Dakota Corn Growers announced Thursday the organization will build a $1.5 billion dollar plant to turn natural gas into nitrogen fertilizer.
It's the second big fertilizer plant plan unveiled in North Dakota in recent months.
Minnesota-based Cenex-Harvest States, announced last fall it would build a $1 billion dollar fertilizer plant in North Dakota to take advantage of natural gas supplies.
U.S. nitrogen production took a dive in the 1990s when natural gas prices spiked. Natural gas is the primary cost for producing nitrogen. The Fertilizer Institute, a voice for the industry, said prior to the late 1990s U.S companies produced 87 percent of nitrogen fertilizer needed by American farmers.
After natural gas prices skyrocketed, fertilizer production plummeted to the point where the trade group estimates 50 percent of nitrogen fertilizer used by American farmers was imported from countries such as China and Saudi Arabia.
Fertilizer production is increasing across the country. It will take a couple of years for most of the proposed plants to get up and running. But some analysts believe the increase in domestic production will stabilize fertilizer costs for farmers.
One challenge in North Dakota will be building a pipeline network to capture the natural gas and bring it to the new fertilizer plants. An estimated 30 percent of natural gas produced in North Dakota is now burned as it comes out of the ground because there's no way to capture and transport the gas.
Several pipeline projects are currently under construction or in the planning stages.
The 66th annual Governor's Fishing Opener set for this weekend in Park Rapids may be one for the record books.
As of today, many lakes in the area still have lots of ice, enough so that even a couple of days of warm temperatures are unlikely to make it disappear in time for Saturday's walleye opener.
Dennis Mackedanz of Park Rapids is in charge of this year's event. He figures the ice on most lakes will shrink enough so that anglers will be able to find at least some open water.
"I've been watching it every day this past week," Mackedanz said. "We've made significant progress in the last few days. Several of the lakes look like they're going to have open water by Saturday morning. The question is, is it the whole lake? Probably not."
Fortunately, the people of Park Rapids have a "Plan B." Gov. Mark Dayton will likely spend a lot of time fishing the Fish Hook River, which enters Fish Hook Lake from the south.
Jason Durham, a Nevis kindergarten teacher, will guide the governor for the day. Durham, who's been an area fishing guide for 22 years, said visitors to the Park Rapids area won't have too much trouble finding open water for fishing.
Public access landings, however, may not have docks installed yet, as the state Department of Natural Resources and local counties couldn't get that work done while there was still ice along the shores.
"The fortunate thing for our community is that we have so many lakes situated close by, and a lot of those are smaller bodies of water, most of them under 2,000 acres," Durham said. "So we're going to have other areas to fish, because those lakes have opened up, so anglers are going to go lots of different directions and fish a lot of different lakes."
Here's what a lot of northern Minnesota lakes look like this week.
This City of Bemidji work crew is busy with spring clean-up on the shore of Lake Bemidji. But most of the lake is still covered in ice. Open water began appearing this week following several days of warm weather, but there will still likely be ice on the lake on Saturday.
That's probably going to be true for most larger lakes in northern Minnesota.
Here's a Department of Natural Resources map that pinpoints which lakes are free of ice. The DNR relies on data from the public, so it's certainly not accurate. But it does show that the state has a long way to go before all if its waters are ice free.
At least 50 loons have been rescued from farmers' fields, parking lots and roadsides since Saturday in northern Wisconsin. What's happening?
An ice storm in central Wisconsin last Thursday and Friday "encased loons in ice as they were migrating," explained Marge Gibson, who runs the Raptor Education Group in Antigo, Wisc. "They fell like rocks from the sky."
Gibson has rescued and released 51 stranded loons since Saturday, and said she has six more in rehabilitation. Here's a video of a loon recovering in a bathtub.
Loons also tried to make emergency landings in areas that looked like open water, but in fact were hard surfaces that looked like water, like parking lots or fields with some standing puddles.
"They're really desperate," said Erica LeMoine, LoonWatch Program Coordinator at the Sigurd Olson Environmental Institute in Ashland, Wisc. "They're trying to get to a place where they can rest until they can get to the lake they want to get to."
The problem, explains LeMoine, is that loons can't take off from hard surfaces. Even in lakes and rivers, they need up to a quarter mile of open water to gain enough speed to fly. LeMoine says that leaves them prone to starvation and predation.
It doesn't appear to be a problem in Minnesota. Phil Jenni, Executive Director of the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center of Minnesota, said his organization has only taken in two loons this spring, and both have been released. He said most loons had already migrated through southern Minnesota before last week's record snowfall reached Rochester, Red Wing and surrounding areas.
The late ice-out of many lakes across northern Wisconsin is also wreaking havoc with migrating loons. "Loons are crowding on to lakes in southern Wisconsin, on rivers around here, and little pieces of lakes that are open," said Erica LeMoine, as the birds wait out the ice on their home lakes in Wisconsin, Canada and elsewhere. "It's created a loon bottleneck," she said.
Posted at 7:32 AM on May 1, 2013
by David Cazares
Filed under: Flooding
MPR Photo/Conrad Wilson
By Dan Gunderson
This year's Red River spring flood in Fargo-Moorhead is the latest on record, and perhaps one of the most over predicted floods.
Earlier this spring, the National Weather Service offered a probabilistic flood outlook - an early estimate of flooding potential - and predicted the Red River in Fargo-Moorhead would reach a crest of 38 to 42 feet. The upper range of that outlook would have been a record-breaking flood, and the possibility kicked flood preparations in Fargo into high gear. Volunteers filled more than 1 million sandbags and contractors constructed several miles of emergency levees.
Cost for that work will top $2 million.
But after several revisions lowering the crest levels each time, the Red River in Fargo is predicted to crest today at just over 33 feet. That's more than six feet below the record level and more than four feet below the low end of the weather service outlook.
The sandbag dikes will all stay dry this year, Fargo Senior Engineer April Walker said.
"It can be frustrating but at the same time it's way better to be prepared than to have the crest rise and not be prepared for that," she said.
Walker said the city must prepare for the river levels that the National Weather Service predicts.
What happened with the predictions?
The conditions made for an ideal spring melt; gradual with temperatures above freezing during the day and below freezing at night. The Red River Valley also avoided several storm systems that could have added more water to the region.
But those factors were part of the initial outlook from the National Weather Service and should have resulted in a river level near the lower end of the prediction: 38 feet.
Steve Buan, a hydrologist for the weather service, said this spring flood also exposed a weakness in the flood prediction model. It didn't adequately account for the drought that dried out the landscape last summer.
The late spring melt meant the soil thawed and absorbed much more water than forecasters expected.
"And also I think some of the factors of the dry fall with the depressional storage, the marshes and sloughs that typically hold water, that probably wasn't taken as much into account numerically within the model as what's actually occurring out on the landscape," Buan said.
The same weakness in the flood predication model was evident in 2009 when the Red River reached a record level of 40.8 feet.
That was near the top of the range predicted by the National Weather Service, with about a five percent chance of happening, and the high water caught Fargo- Moorhead by surprise, prompting an intense effort to keep the cities from flooding.
In the spring of 2009, conditions were the exact opposite of 2013. Sloughs and wetlands were all full to the top after a wet summer the year before. The saturated soil then froze and a rapid snow melt in March meant very little water was stored on the landscape or in the soil. Most of the snowmelt flowed into rivers, leading to a record flood.
The National Weather Service flood prediction model can accurately adjust for soil moisture and wetland storage on a small scale, down to about four square miles, according to Buan.
But he said attempts to scale that prediction power up to hundreds or thousands of square miles for an entire watershed or the Red River Valley basin does not work.
There's just too much variation across the landscape. And the land is constantly being manipulated, Buan said. Some fields have drain tile installed , new ditches dug or old ones cleaned. All of those activities change the dynamics of snowmelt runoff.
This was a tough year to be a river forecaster, but Buan said criticism for missing the forecast goes with the territory. He hopes this flood will raise some questions that improve future forecasting.
"Usually things like this spur research," he said. "Somebody will take this on and want to explore exactly what happened and that will feed back into the predictive process."
The information from the 2013 Red River flood will also influence future predictions. It will take about two years to review all of the data and check it for accuracy. Then the latest flood on record will be one of the 60 scenarios the computer model can consider for future forecasting.
Minnesota this year recovered the number of jobs it lost in the Great Recession. A deeper look at the data, though, paint an intriguing picture of winners and losers -- and how our economy continues to shift.
Bottom line: Health care jobs saved our bacon in the recession. The industry continued to grow jobs during the worst economic conditions in decades.
Nearly 53,000 jobs were added in the Education and Health Services sector from December 2007, the official start of the Great Recession, through February. That almost exactly makes up for the losses Minnesota suffered in manufacturing and construction.
Health jobs drove nearly all the gains in the the Education and Health Services category.
It makes sense. We're an aging population here and health care is increasingly important to our lives.
The problem, though, is that, generally, those jobs don't pay nearly as well as the jobs in, say, manufacturing and construction.
Here's a look at average weekly wages in Minnesota for those sectors in 2007 and 2011 (complete 2012 data isn't available yet).
It may still be too soon to conclude what we're seeing now are permanent shifts. But there's no doubt manufacturing and construction provide a shrinking share of Minnesota's non-farm employment, from 16.4 percent of total non-farm jobs in December 2007 to 14.5 percent now.
Those are long term trends that accelerated in the Great Recession.
The signs for health care growth job growth are positive. Without those jobs, Minnesota would not have the economic bragging rights it holds over Wisconsin and other states.
Still, right now it looks like in our future economy we're replacing higher paying jobs for ones with lower wages. The demand for health care workers is jumping. Will their wages follow suit?
Scott Olson will officially be inaugurated as the president of Winona State University this afternoon.
Olson, who begins his tenure as the institution's 15th president, was appointed to the presidency on May 16, 2012, upon the retirement of Judith A. Ramaley.
Prior to joining WSU, he served as Provost, Vice President for Academic and Student Affairs, and Professor of Communication Studies at Minnesota State University, Mankato.
Olson has published numerous books and journal articles and served on various community boards in southern Minnesota. In 2004, he produced an award-winning documentary film about digital learning.
The inauguration takes place at 2 p.m. in McCown Gymnasium and will be followed by a reception at the Integrated Wellness Complex Gymnasium. Both are open to the public.
The university received more than 60 applications for the position, which became available when Ramaley announced last August it would be her final year with the university. Ramaley was the first female president at WSU.
(Photo courtesy of Winona State University)