19 October 2016

Endangered and Threatened Species in the Missouri River

Jon Eagle Sr. of the Standing Rock Lakota-Sioux Reservation in North Dakota told me that there are two birds and a fish threatened and endangered species in the Missouri River Basin. 

Here is the endangered pallid sturgeon, an ancient fish type:
And a paper published in 2015 shed light on why this species is endangered - anoxic zones (areas of very low oxygen in the water) due to damming the Missouri River. In other words, humans engineered the river and now yet another species of fish cannot survive the change.

Then there is the cutie pie piping plover - I participated on a study of breeding pairs of piping plovers on the Connecticut shoreline more than a decade ago and fell in love with these birds - they breed on the shores of Lake Oahe, one of the main crossing areas of the Dakota Access Pipeline. These birds are threatened - endangered populations also exist in the Great Lakes region.
And finally the Least Tern. Since this bird lives and nests on sandy islands, its habitat has been either removed or encroached upon by humans and the engineering of the Missouri.  

The Dakota Access Pipeline poses a threat to the already problematic habitat loss and change due to human engineering to the Missouri River Basin.  

Missouri River Basin Water Security Threats from Climate Change

Working on a US river basin is proving to be the opposite of my usual problem of not enough data - I am practically drowning in it! The Center for Research on the Changing Earth System, CRCES, out of Maryland that has conducted research on the Missouri River Basin's water security vulnerabilities related to climate change. Their webpages contain useful information about the basin that I am examining to include in our water security threats and vulnerability assessment related to development (DAPL in specific). The page has some useful maps, reports, papers, and other resources worth checking out if you are interested in a better understanding of the basin.

Up front, the page tells us that the Missouri River Basin accounts for almost half of all the wheat production and more than a third of cattle production, valued at over $100 billion USD in 2008, the year we had an economic crisis.

I'm also finding a slew of interesting maps of the Basin. This one from the US Army Corps of Engineers shows just how big the basin is over the landmass of the United States - unfortunately the mapmakers cut the watershed off at the border - it actually covers territory in 2 Canadian Provinces as well.

Another map from the US National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Agency (NOAA) highlights where likely flooding will occur in the basin due to effects of weather and climate events.

The Missouri is the longest river in the United States and connects into the Mississippi - which makes a hydrological connectivity that reaches the Gulf of Mexico. This is demonstrated in the complex but all inclusive map of the Mississippi River Basin from Wikipedia.

This map from the Kansas Department of Agriculture (I did not know that individual states had departments of agriculture before now) highlights the 6 main reservoirs along the Missouri operated by the Army Corps of Engineers and also that the water in the river is an important resource for Kansas City residents. 

And the World Resources Institute classifies stressed river basins - they include the Mississippi (in which the Missouri lies) as moderate to high water stress.

And finally, for this post, a map of the average flow of rivers across the United States (note the basins all end at the border for political reasons, not natural reasons) from the offices of well-known water security scholar, Peter Gleick.

18 October 2016

Rescheduled Smithsonian Event This Thursday Evening 6:30 - 8:00 at Curtiss Mansion


On October 20, 2016 from 6:30-8:00pm I will be moderating a panel of experts for the Curtiss Mansions' Smithsonian WaterWays Exhibition on South Florida Water Challenges and Solutions. The panel will include experts from University of Miami, Florida International University, and Miami Waterkeeper not-for-profit organization.

You can see the Curtiss Mansions' website for more details and for the panelists' bios. If you are in Miami, please plan to attend. The discussion should be both lively and informative!

17 October 2016

Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) Environmental Assessment

If you are interested to give a read of the Dakota Access Pipelines Environmental Assessment, that passed muster with our government, please see the document itself:

16 October 2016

Standing Rock Stand Against Water Defilement

To protect water ensures security for ecosystems, people, the river itself. The Indigenous Peoples of America and the world are leading us toward a sustainable tomorrow, if we are only willing to follow.

I have just returned from a field trip to North Dakota water protector camps on and near to the Standing Rock Lakota-Sioux Reservation. If you have not heard about this historic and monumental event, please read more about it on Sacred Stone Camp's website. They have collected dozens of news articles about the situation. As I understand it...
Delwin Fiddler holds open a Water is Life Banner at Oceti Sakowin


THE ACTION Indigenous Peoples and allies from around the country (the count is up to more than 245 Indigenous Tribes) and world have come together in North Dakota to stand against an oil pipeline called the Dakota Access Pipeline or DAPL for short. This unification of Tribes is unprecedented. The stand at Standing Rock Reservation is along the Missouri River and Cannonball River confluence and is full of people of all ages, native and non-native alike. People are staying in secure camps near to the construction of the pipeline. Those who have come there identify as Water Protectors and are putting their lives and bodies on the line to prevent development of an oil pipeline crossing the Missouri River. The camps are full of prayers. Groups of singers, drummers, flute players, and dancers share their performance as medicine for healing and strength.

THE PIPELINE This 1,172 mile pipeline is designed to cross the Missouri River and the Mississippi River as well as 8 other tributaries of the Missouri - as I wrote about previously, but as I learned in North Dakota, will cross 209 waterways in total. The pipeline company is called Energy Transfer Partners and is based in Texas, but has assets all over the United States. They state on their website that they are aware of Environmental Regulations and abide by them. If this is the case, why did they choose to fast track their pipeline construction, thereby bypassing Clean Water Act and NEPA regulations for proper Environmental Impact Assessment on the totality of this megaproject? What I am talking about is that the company, with the permission of the Federal Government bodies that could call them out on this and enforce otherwise, used a loophole in the law created for small-scale infrastructure projects. They broke their project impact into 1000 foot segments and assessed under those required guidelines - a much less rigorous and costly method to ensure environmental safety and compliance. This is a mega project and needs to be assessed as such. There is a reason why these laws are in place in the first place and finding ways around the law only serves to dilute the effectiveness of environmental policies.

Pipelines leak. There are some good technologies out there that can minimize threat and failure, but there is no full-proof design for leak-proof pipelines. This particular pipeline will move through 4 states and 40 counties, but a breach could impact a much broader swathe of America through contamination of both the surface and ground water.

THE GOVERNMENT'S RESPONSE  Currently, the state police and national guard are being used to protect this private company's interest - in other words, tax payer dollars are being used for corporate interests. This coupled with the taxpayer dollars required to clean up oil spills over the years puts public interests aside for private profit.

Additionally, at least two people are being charged with either participating in or inciting a riot, when in fact both of these people were filming the North Dakota police, pipeline security, and water protector clashes. Tomorrow we will see where the courts are going with such a charge and whether or not this goes anywhere - if either person is convicted they will be considered political prisoners, something that happens in other countries frequently and why many people seek asylum in America - we have Right to Free Speech, Freedom of the Press, and Right to Assembly. This is getting a bit confusing as well because people are being arrested for exercising their First Amendment. In case you need a refresher (I know I did):

In the First Amendment to the United States Constitution it states: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances" (Bloom p. 81). The right of a citizen to peacefully 1) parade and gather or 2) demonstrate support or opposition of public policy or 3) express one's views is guaranteed by the freedom of speech and the right to peaceably assembly..

On September 9th the Department of Justice put forward a statement that they would be meeting with Tribal members across the country this fall to discuss two items (no doubt related to what has been inspired at Standing Rock):
1. within the existing statutory framework, what should the federal government do to better ensure meaningful tribal input into infrastructure-related reviews and decisions and the protection of tribal lands, resources, and treaty rights?
2. should new legislation be proposed to Congress to alter that statutory framework and promote those goals?

Meetings have already occurred in Phoenix, Arizona and will continue this fall. I am interested to hear what the Tribes call for from the government in light of continued infrastructural development encroachment on water, land, and resources guaranteed through the Treaties (for a complete list, University of Oklahoma has a database).

Traditional media has done a crap job covering this event. People have been camped near the river since April. The camp swelled and an overflow camp was established over the summer. This fall, people are digging in for the winter. Yet, not much of anything has appeared on the evening news, and barely anything about this in the newspapers. This is news. I cannot believe that the elections need that much airspace that not one story can be shared about this.

When an article does get published by a mainstream outfit, such as the recent New York Times article by Jack Healey (you can email him at jack.healy@nytimes.com to let him know what you think) the coverage is painfully biased and poorly written by junior, inexperienced journalists and photographers (the photos look like the photographer didn't get out of the vehicle, & the voice-over by the author is amateurish at best). 

If you want to know about Standing Rock situation, it is best to check social media. Some of that has not been cooperating and working properly either. Some people think that the media black out is on purpose. Some people experience that social media is being limited - such as some functionality of Facebook has been acting unusual - such as the live feed or videos not posting properly or in a timely fashion.

People who care about the security of the water are taking a stand in North Dakota. This is another in a trend of actions taken across the country of people standing against the irresponsible development fostered by a broken Federal permitting process that is overlooking its own law and policy. Clean Water Act. National Environmental Policy Act. Endangered Species Act. These decisions were put in place for a reason. Touting "National Security" reasons for building a pipeline to process crude oil that will most likely sell to the highest bidder - not necessarily for domestic markets - does not trump the need for this Energy Transfers company to follow regulations like everyone else. Water is our most important national security issue. Wake up Washington.


To protect water ensures security for ecosystems, people, the river itself. The indigenous peoples of America and the world are leading us toward a sustainable tomorrow, if we are only willing to follow.

07 October 2016

Water Security of the Missouri River and DAPL Part 2

Our team has been working together to pull together initial data produce some initial analysis of the water security of the Missouri River Basin as related to this Dakota Access Pipeline. First draft of Missouri River Water Security and Dakota Access Pipeline maps are in and initial analysis reveals a few things: (I will share these on here after we have the final drafts completed)

  1. The proposed path of the Dakota Access Pipeline is currently designed to cross the Missouri River/Cannonball River confluence where the Standing Rock protests are positioned, as well as 8 other tributaries to the Missouri and downstream, there is a proposed crossing on the Mississippi River.
    • This means that the pipeline not only threatens the Missouri River water resources in one crossing, but in 9 crossings - each tributary carries water (and whatever is in the water) to the Missouri River.
    • These 9 crossings are upstream of the Mississippi River and there is one more crossing on the upper Mississippi - which also sustains a sizable population and economic (including agricultural) interests.
  2. There are six sizable Native American communities living on the main Missouri River that could be directly impacted if there is contamination from oil leaking or spilling at 4 of the proposed 10 crossings.
  3. The pipeline also looks to cross closely to heavily populated areas in Des Moines, IA and Sioux Falls, SD.

Questions this brings up for me:

  1. What is the number of people relying on Missouri River water for a domestic water supply?
  2. What is the economic impact of a change to water quality from a potential oil leak or spill - to communities, businesses, people, the environment?
  3. What are the water quality standards of the Missouri River currently?
  4. Can those change?
  5. Who is responsible if there is an oil leak in the Missouri River Basin?
  6. Where is the overall Environmental Impact Assessment of this project?
  7. Who are the stakeholders? 
  8. Who influences decisions about water in the Missouri River Basin? Are these people actually stakeholders? In other words, do the people making decisions stand to lose if those are poor decisions?
About our team:
I put out a call to build a team of colleagues who have experience in technical and subject or contextual aspects of a geographically based effort toward understanding the socio-ecological water security of the Missouri River. I was overwhelmed to hear back from eight people that hail from Asia, Europe, Africa, and North America willing to roll up their sleeves and help with this work.

So far - we have mappers - geographers &cartographers pulling together available data from online to get a better understanding of the spatial relationships of water to people to types of communities to state boundaries to the pipeline, etc.
We have content researchers building an events and online sources database - we are culling the internet for social and traditional media sources of information on the pipeline and the current water conflict. This database, once we have finished populating, coding, summarizing, and conducting a content analysis will ultimately live both on a webpage of my personal website and with Aaron Wolf's Transboundary Freshwater Dispute Database at Oregon State University. We currently have 60 records coded and in the process of being summarized in preparation for analysis.

And we have a historian and water lawyer helping to fit in the policy, treaties, and official agreements about water and land in the Missouri River Basin.
In the wings there is a demographer and women's health specialist looking to contribute. And I am just discovering information about farmers and landholders near to the Bakken fields (within the Basin) who are dealing with salt water contamination to their soils due to brine dumps from hydro-fracking.

Standing Rock is serving as a platform of unification for indigenous peoples from all over the country and the world, as well as people concerned with the environment and concerned with water. Let's keep this going - I hope to learn much more on my upcoming trip to North Dakota.

Something to note: I've noticed in the online news is that the pipeline company has not stopped laying pipe. I am not sure I understand the situation completely. Court ruling this week in DC is that there is a delay in deciding about the current delay in laying the pipe across the river. We still have time to highlight why this project needs to be reconsidered in its current form - and this is connected to environmental considerations in the Bakken fields, as well as moving oil along two of the most significant river valleys in the United States of America - the Missouri River is the longest river, the Mississippi is the largest catchment - both rivers are transboundary: shared between countries, states, counties, tribal land, municipalities, public land, and important and threatened ecosystems that contain endangered species.

If you want to join our team with your expertise, please get in touch as soon as possible!