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Great River National Wildlife Refuge Gets a New CAP
Midwest Region, December 1, 2010
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A laden barge pushes past Long Island Division on the Mississippi River.(U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service photo)
A laden barge pushes past Long Island Division on the Mississippi River.(U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service photo) - Photo Credit: n/a
A water logged Great Horned Owl climbs the bank after a swim in the Fox River. (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service photo)
A water logged Great Horned Owl climbs the bank after a swim in the Fox River. (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service photo) - Photo Credit: n/a
A 55-gallon drum deposited on Refuge land by flood waters. (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service photo)
A 55-gallon drum deposited on Refuge land by flood waters. (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service photo) - Photo Credit: n/a
Wreckage from a train derailment just yards from Fox Island Division exemplifies the threats to Refuge property. (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service photo)
Wreckage from a train derailment just yards from Fox Island Division exemplifies the threats to Refuge property. (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service photo) - Photo Credit: n/a

To be perfectly honest, I never expected to use the knowledge I gained from my thesis research project again. However, this summer an opportunity was presented to me by Dave Mosby, the Environmental Contaminants Specialist with the Columbia Ecological Services Field Station, to do a Phase I evaluation of contaminant threats to Great River National Wildlife Refuge (NWR). I was excited to dust the cobwebs out of that portion of my brain and revisit my contaminants background - so I eagerly accepted the challenge. Much like my thesis project, the Contaminant Assessment Process (CAP) analysis presented challenges at every turn resulting in a very deliberate and systematic evaluation of contaminant issues and threats to Great River NWR – and a great learning experience for me. Great River NWR was established to conserve and enhance the quality and diversity of fish and wildlife and their habitats in the Mark Twain Reach of the Mississippi River. The Refuge complex of properties includes: Clarence Cannon NWR, Delair Division, Long Island Division and Fox Island Division, along the Mississippi River both in Missouri and Illinois. Great River NWR, located in the heart of the Mississippi Flyway, provides critical habitat for migratory birds. All of the Divisions are located within and adjacent to the Upper Mississippi River System (UMRS). This 1,300 mile section of the Mississippi River supports a tremendous range of uses for an estimated 30 million people. These uses include: commercial navigation, recreation, industry, municipal water supplies, hydropower, power plant cooling and waste water assimilation. Industrialization of the Mississippi River Valley has come at a price, rendering the river one of the most contaminated rivers in the United States. Contaminants are introduced to the system through point source, non-point source, air emissions, wastewater discharges and accidental spills, among other vectors. The Upper Mississippi River Basin drains nearly 190,000 square miles, including large parts of the states of Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, and Wisconsin. Congress has even recognized the UMRS as a nationally significant ecosystem as well as a nationally significant navigation system. The “Mighty Miss” supports more than 127 species of fish and 30 species of freshwater mussels. Nearly 300 species of birds migrate through the river valley during spring and fall. Interestingly, the Mississippi Flyway is used by more than 40 percent of the migratory waterfowl traversing the U.S. The CAP for Great River NWR evaluated existing information from regulatory agency databases to identify documented and potential contaminant issues which may affect Refuge property and resources. The analysis also provided recommendations for further evaluations and actions to be considered within the context of Refuge management goals and objectives. An estimated 70 to 85 million tons of cargo are shipped annually on the Mississippi River between Minneapolis and the confluence with the Missouri River near St. Louis. Commodities transported on the river run a full range from corn to coal to chemicals and the potential for spills or leaks from these vessels are a valid concern. Given the importance of the river for navigation, many industries are situated within the floodplain and utilize the river for transportation of goods. Not only are these industries major sources of point source pollution as by-products of manufacturing, but the potential for accidental spills is also present at loading docks throughout the basin. Other transportation vessels, such as trains and trucks, hauling materials overland are also a concern. Additionally, many pipelines cross the Mississippi River and its tributaries, transporting natural gas, crude oil and petroleum products. The potential for accidental or deliberate rupturing of these pipelines is notable. Non-point source pollution is also major contributor to the contamination of the river and its floodplain. Over 60 percent of the UMRS basin is cropland or pasture. Erosion of farmland soils as well as direct rainfall runoff can introduce fertilizers and a variety of pesticides, including organochlorine compounds, into the bottomland ecosystem. These substances may be toxic both through direct exposure as well as through bioaccumulation in the food chain with secondary effects on reproduction and behavior. Exploration of the Refuge properties revealed some minor contaminant concerns. Flooding remains the most prevalent mechanism for the deposition of contaminants in the refuge. It was not uncommon to find household and urban garbage floating in the waters or washed up on shore. Brief searches of the refuge yielded the discovery of numerous potentially hazardous substances transported by the 2010 extended high water events on the Mississippi River and previous years’ flooding. Some of the usual suspects included: plastic and steel drums, compressed gas cylinders, household appliances and containers of oil, hydraulic fluid and other potentially hazardous substances. Despite the trash, Candy Chambers, Dave Mosby and I were witnesses to a bizarre and wonderful sight – a swimming Great Horned Owl! As we motored up the Fox River to explore the southern boundary of Fox Island Division, we saw something thrashing about in the water. Upon closer inspection, we discovered an owl “swimming” up to the bank. After about ten minutes, we determined that the raptor was uninjured as the rather cross-looking owl’s soaked feathers had dried enough that it could fly up into the low branches of the trees. The Refuge was established to conserve and enhance the quality and diversity of fish and wildlife and their habitats along the Mississippi River. The parcels acquired to date have begun to accomplish this mission with minimal contaminant interference. Very little can be done to alter regional agricultural practices or the negative impacts of massive urban areas. However, the intention of the CAP is to establish a baseline for the Refuge that it can be better prepared to mitigate the effects of future accidental spills on and near refuge lands. Because the potential for contamination transported both by the river and the other sources remains high, we concluded that baseline contaminant sampling be conducted on most units to supplement the spill contingency plan already in place. This has been a mutually beneficial opportunity for three programs to work together in an effort to protect and enhance habitat for fish and wildlife.


Contact Info: Patricia Herman, 573-234-2132 x170, Patricia_Herman@fws.gov



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