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Month: July 2018

What is the Mississippi River Basin?

What is the Mississippi River Basin, and why is it so important?

The Mississippi River is, to put it simply, big. It flows 2,350 miles from its source at Lake Itasca in Minnesota through the center of the continental United States to the Gulf of Mexico. It is a major migration route for North American birds and fish, and is home to around 260 species of fish and over 300 species of birds. It is one of the world’s most important commercial waterways. Every year, million of tons of rice from farms in Arkansas and Louisiana are transported via barge. It’s final destination? China. Rice is just one of many goods transported domestically and internationally via the Mississippi.

Beginning in the 19th century, the Mississippi became an important transportation channel for commerce, industry, and recreation. Engineering the river to provide navigation and control flooding continues to be a management issue. Engineers have to consider changing floodplain regions as a result of the natural shift of the river’s course, as well as nutrient runoff from agriculture located in the floodplains. To increase navigation potential, engineer’s connected Lake Michigan and the Illinois River, making yet another path for invasive species.

The Mississippi River Basin Watershed, the area drained by a river’s tributaries, is about 1.2 million square miles, and includes all or parts of 31 states and two Canadian provinces, about 40% of the continental United States. In Wisconsin, tributaries include the Rock River, Wisconsin River, Chippewa River, and St. Croix River, among many others.

The Mississippi in the Mid-West

Balancing the needs and demands of navigation, agriculture, recreation, industry, and wildlife continues to be a challenge. There are no easy answers, as several global entities, compete for their interests in the Basin region. This complex ecological system will continue to be an important part of the conversation about water and life.


To read about organizations committed to responsible management of the Upper Mississippi Region, click here.

Michala Roberts

Graduate Assistant for Go Big Read 

Guest Post: Mary Burns Explores Women’s Roles as Water Stewards

Once a month, the Go Big Read blog will feature an article written by one of the contributing authors for the Center for Limnology blog. This collaboration was made possible by Adam Hinterthuer, the University Relations Specialist for the Center for Limnology. 

Courtesy of UW Center for Limnology

Mary Burns believes that water is sacred.

A textile artist and weaver, Mary lives on the banks of the Manitowish River, in the cabin that once belonged to her grandparents. She said that the cabin, and the river that runs beside it, are the sites of some of her earliest memories.

“I think people really feel drawn to water, and it means a lot to people, whether it is a sense of belonging, or a sense of serenity,” Mary said. “I think there is a magnetic pull to water for most people.”

Her own connection to water has inspired her throughout her career as a weaver. Now, she hopes that a residency at Trout Lake Station will give her the opportunity to explore that relationship — as well as the role of women as environmental stewards — further.

Mary works on a sample for a current project. She can use up to 1300 warp threads at one time. Courtesy of UW Center for Limnology

She imagines her residency taking the form of a series of woven portraits, featuring women who are leaders in water science and stewardship, paired with weavings of freshwater landscapes. She also plans to extract natural dyes from those landscapes.

“I think that women working in limnology are essential. I would like to bring their expertise into this discussion,” Mary said. “I would like the exhibit to broaden people’s knowledge our water problems and encourage people to take action.”

Tentatively, she will title the collection The Living Water.

The series will expand on a project that Mary has been working on for the past several years. Called Ancestral Women, that series included 12 woven portraits of native women and 12 landscapes. The collection resulted from a collaboration between Mary and tribal communities across Wisconsin.

“Women are life givers, and in many native societies, they are the water protectors,” Mary explained. “I started working with native women on this because it seemed to me that they should be honored first.”
A portrait of water walker Josephine Mandamin.
Weavings from both series line the walls of Mary’s airy studio.

“This is Josephine Mandamin,” Mary said, gesturing toward a grey-tone image of an older woman carrying a copper pot. It’s one of the first pieces Mary has competed as part of Living Water.

A portrait of water walker Josephine Mandamin. Courtesy of UW Center for Limnology

Josephine, Mary explained, began the Water Walk Movement, an effort lead by native women to advocate for freshwater conservation. Josephine has walked over 15,000 miles to raise awareness for water.

“She is tremendously inspirational to me,” Mary said.

The portrait of Josephine, took Mary over a month to complete. Mary has been weaving since high school, but Ancestral Women was the first time she had ever attempted portraiture in that medium.

But weaving, she said, was the best way for her to share these stories.

“Bringing these stories to life in weaving is a gift I have been given,” Mary said. “I think that people relate to it and are amazed by it. It’s a textile, and people are drawn to that. It’s something basic, it connects to everybody and it’s something that can be touched.”

Mary said she chose to design the the portraits in grey tones because color would have distracted from the stories she wanted the weavings to tell.

“I think the monochrome is more powerful,” she said. “The minimalism contains complexity.”

Mary’s jacquard loom stands in the back corner of her studio, near a window overlooking a garden bursting with the indigo she uses to dye silks.

Even when she reduces her palette to a few colors, the weaving process is incredibly complicated. Mary works with 1,300 warp threads at any time, and she controls each individually.

She navigates between 4,000 weave structures to create the perfect shading and textures in her pieces.

While Mary said she hopes her work conveys her gratitude for Wisconsin’s abundant freshwater systems, she also hopes that it inspires stewardship of them, and cautions audiences that the state’s resources cannot be taken for granted.

Particularly, she sees agricultural and industrial runoff and mining as threats to Wisconsin’s waterways. When she weaves, she said it is with that thankfulness — but also those worries — in mind.

Mary will be working at Trout Lake station throughout the summer and fall as she completes her residency. Check back often to see more of her completed work.

To view more of Mary’s weavings, please visit her website. To learn more about the Trout Lake Station artist-in-residence program (and to see some beautiful aquatic-inspired art), visit the Drawing Water website.

Article by Sydney Widell

Summer Science Communication Intern, Center for Limnology

Guest Contributor, Go Big Read

Guest Post: Summer inspectors help boaters prevent the spread of invasive species in Wisconsin’s waters

Once a month, the Go Big Read blog will feature an article written by one of the contributing authors of the University of Wisconsin Sea Grant Press Room and blog. This collaboration was made possible by the Moira Harrington, the Assistant Director of Communications for Wisconsin Sea Grant. 

As another Wisconsin summer hits its stride, it’s a good time for Wisconsin boaters to think about responsible boating practices.  They can enjoy the great outdoors and protect our waters at the same time by taking simple actions to prevent the spread of aquatic invasive species (AIS).

Clean Boats, Clean Waters is a statewide boater education program that Wisconsin Sea Grant implements in partnership with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and University of Wisconsin-Extension.  With the help of Great Lakes Restoration Initiative funding, Sea Grant educates boaters along the Great Lakes coast.

Trained watercraft inspectors are stationed in four areas of the state, where they teach boaters how to take the preventative steps required by state law to minimize the risk of spreading unwanted “hitchhikers,” such as zebra mussels and quagga mussels, from one body of water to another.

Simple steps taken after boating can prevent the spread of aquatic invasive species. Clean Boats, Clean Waters inspectors are ready to educate and assist.
Credit: Clean Boats, Clean Waters

Tim Campbell, Sea Grant’s AIS outreach specialist, works closely with Wisconsin DNR on the program.  As he summed up Wisconsin law, “Basically, you’re not allowed to transport aquatic plants, mud or animals on a public roadway. You also can’t transport lake or river water, so you need to drain out the water before leaving the boat landing.”

While more than 90% of boaters say they are familiar with Wisconsin law and “always” or “usually” take steps to clean their watercraft, that still leaves many boating trips each year that present some risk.

Inspectors talk to boaters (and users of other watercraft, like kayaks and paddleboards) about these requirements and, when needed, help them take the necessary actions, such as removing plants from a hard-to-reach part of a trailer or draining excess water from boat compartments.

“Especially at the beginning of the boating season, people can be rusty in their boating habits,” said Campbell.  “And it’s always good for inspectors to be there to talk to the few people who haven’t yet heard the ‘Stop Aquatic Hitchhikers!’ message.”

Clean Boats, Clean Waters inspectors are based out of Appleton, Green Bay, Milwaukee/Port Washington, and the Kenosha/Racine/Milwaukee area.  The aim is not to penalize boaters, but to help them comply with the law and protect our waters so they can be enjoyed for generations to come.

“Many of the boaters thank me for being out and doing my job, which is pretty cool,” said inspector Matthew Cherney, a UW-Madison student majoring in geological engineering and geoscience.  Cherney, who is from Appleton, covers boat launches in and around Milwaukee.

The inspectors are all college students and work through Labor Day or so.  It’s gratifying work, said Nick Holtmeier, a UW-Whitewater student majoring in biology and Spanish, whose area is northeastern Wisconsin. “My favorite part of performing inspections is getting to talk to the public to inform them about a topic for which I have a passion.”

The program has been quite successful in holding the line on the spread of AIS.  Said Campbell, “Clean Boats, Clean Waters has been going on since 2004, and we know that it works to change boater behaviors.  It’s the best program we have to really make an impact on the spread of invasive species.”

For questions about the program, contact Campbell at

Click here to subscribe to the University of Wisconsin Sea Grant Press Room.

Article by Jennifer A. Smith

Contributor, University of Wisconsin Sea Grant

Guest Contributor, Go Big Read