Statewide: December 6, 2010 Archive
Photo courtesy Water Innovation Centre
Manitoba is trying a new approach to reducing phosphorus in Lake Winnipeg. The lake is in jeopardy because of too much phosphorus.
As I reported earlier this year, a significant share of that phosphorus comes from the Red River, which flows north draining a big chunk of northern Minnesota and eastern North Dakota.
There's a very large marsh on the south end of Lake Winnipeg which filters much of the water flowing in from the Red River. Manitoba plans to harvest about 200 hectares (about 300 acres) of marsh grass and use it for biomass fuel.
Here's the logic: Plants in a wetland take up phosphorus from the water while they are growing. That's what makes wetlands good filters for pollution like phosphorus and nitrogen.
The problem is, when all that vegetation dies at the end of the growing season, the stored phosphorus in the plant is turned loose again as the vegetation decays. So in the spring when wetlands are usually flushed by high water, there's a big spike in phosphorus flowing out of the wetland.
The idea here is to harvest the marsh grasses at the end of the growing season. That takes the stored phosphorus and nitrogen off the landscape.
Manitoba officials plan to turn the grass into biomass fuel to be burned in an electric generation plant, and they say they expect harvesting 300 acres of marsh grass will remove as much phosphorus and nitrogen as is produced annually in the waste water of a town of 20,000 people
I reported earlier about concern in northeastern Minnesota that the Minnesota State Courts system might move to close some of the state's rural courtrooms, due to a tight state budget and the relative lack of business in some remote county courts.
State court officials told me it was something they considered -- but only briefly -- before rejecting the idea. It probably wouldn't save money since juries, defendants, county prosecutors and others would just have to travel to whatever court rooms are still open.
County officials in remote places like Cook County can't help but worry about the idea since it could greatly increase how much counties would have to pay to administer justice for locals.
A Minnesota court committee, the Access and Services Delivery Committee, decided last year not to pursue any closings. The committee did suggest that the Minnesota Judicial Council, a panel that actually makes those kind of decisions, consider some re-organization models that would have reduced the total number of Minnesota judicial districts from the current ten districts to seven.
But Judge John Rodenberg of New Ulm, who chaired the committee says the Judicial Council decided not to pursue consolidation either.
So, the state courts will seek other efficiencies, keeping 10 judicial districts, and keeping court rooms in business in all 87 Minnesota counties. Case closed.
Or is it?
I was contacted by another rural judge, from Renville County, who told me that an independent organization, the National Center for State Courts, had recently studied Minnesota's 8th judicial district, recommending it close court rooms in counties with no chambered judge.
That doesn't change the outcome. It's still up to the state's Minnesota Judicial Council where court is held, and the council is keeping them all open, for now.
But it does suggest today's status quo may not be the final word.