MAZINA’IGAN PAGE 14 • ENVIRONMENTAL • Sizing up threats to St. Croix, Namekagon Rivers Spill response plans under review by agencies, tribes By Philomena Kebec, GLIFWC Policy Analyst The St. Croix and Namekagon Rivers are major features within the Ojibwe Ceded Territories. During the 16th Century, it served as a shared territory and boundary area between Ojibwe and Dakota communities. By the 17th Century, Ojibwe communities claimed the St. Croix watershed, living a good life from the animals, plants and medicines flourishing in the area. Four Ojibwe communities own lands within the St. Croix watershed: the St. Croix Chippewa Indians, the Lac Courte Oreilles Band of Lake Superior Chip- pewa, the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe and the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa. Several communities enjoy treaty reserved rights within the St. Croix Watershed, which begins in the 1842 Ceded Territory and extends through the 1837 Ceded Territory. The St. Croix and Namekagon Rivers originate as fast running streams eventually emptying into the Mississippi River at Prescott, Wisconsin, as a wide, meanderingriver.TheNamekagonsupportstwomajorcommunitiesofmanoomin, or wild rice, at the Pacwawaong and Phipps Flowages. The rivers’ pristine water quality supports a myriad of aquatic species: wall- eye, pike, sturgeon and bass, along with forty species of mussels, including five endangered mussel species. Most portions of the river continue to be valued by paddlers who enjoy the fast flowing water and scenic landscapes. In 1968, Congress enacted the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act to enable the National Park Service authority to protect certain rivers. Within the 1968 legisla- tion, Senators Walter Mondale and Gaylord Nelson, sponsored the St. Croix River and its tributary, the Namekagon. Shortly thereafter, the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway (Riverway), a unit of the National Park System, began acquiring lands bordering the rivers and securing scenic easement protection over private lands, restricting development on the rivers’ shoreline for over 200 miles. Its purpose includes preserving, protecting and enhancing the values of the river for the benefit and enjoyment of present and future generations. Carrying out its mission has required the Riverway to identify threats to the rivers’environmental quality. Climate change, the introduction of invasive species and changing land use pose significant risks to the river’s environmental quality. The use and transportation of industrial chemicals across and within the watershed has resulted in spills of toxic material.Asignificant spill could interrupt harvesting and recreation within the river, or serious and irreparable damage to the river’s plant and animal communities could result. In order to better protect the river from potential spills, the Riverway obtained funding to partner with the Upper Mississippi River BasinAssociation (UMRBA) todevelopaspillresponseplanfortheSt.CroixRiverway.UMRBAhassignificant experience in this area. For the past ten years, it has been developing spill response plans for portions of the Mississippi River. The plans developed by UMRBAhave been used following several spills to speed response time and limit the potential size of the spill. In contrast to a remediation plan, which is developed after a spill has hap- pened, spill response plans can be developed in advance of a spill event to speed response time. Mark Ellis, Project Coordinator for UMRBA, explained the benefit of having spill response plans in place before a major spill event, “It significantly speeds up response time. The command team is already in place, so instead of wasting hours setting up a command structure, responders can start deploying clean up strategies upon arriving to a site.” For spills into rivers, timing is critical. A chemical spilled into a river will travel downstream until it reaches a barrier. With a spill response plan in place, responders can more quickly deploy barriers, saving hours of time and miles of river. Developing spill response plans involves compiling site-specific data about geography, sensitive areas, access points and transportation networks. It also involves bringing communities together to build relationships and determine the expertise and capabilities of various responding agencies. Ellis explained that the Environmental Protection Agency was interested in funding a spill response plan for the Mississippi River because it serves as the boundary between states.Without coordination by a group like UMRBA, there is no natural connection between various state agencies normally involved in spill response. During a recent spill event on Wisconsin side of the Mississippi River across from Iowa, where a spill response plan was deployed, fishery managers from both states were able to more effectively coordinate the response, quickly deciding that one state agency should manage the fishery habitat near the spill and with the other natural resources department caring for the downstream habitat. An important aspect of UMRBA’s spill response plans is the inclusion of data onsensitiveareas.Thesesensitiveareasincludehabitatforthreatenedorendangered species, historic and cultural sites, designated areas (i.e. trout streams and natural areas) and features like water intakes. In a spill response situation, responders’ numberonepriorityisprotectinghumanhealth.Accordingly,significanteffortsare made to immediately divert spillage away from drinking water intakes. Response plans do not always include detailed information about the habitat of sensitive species or historic and cultural sites. Keeping this information confidential is often important to maintaining the integrity of those sites. Response plans do indicate the location of these types of sites with contact information to the trustee of that site, who can provide advice on how to prevent damage to those areas. According to Ellis, the development of the St. Croix Riverway spill response plan has presented unique challenges. The upper reaches of the St. Croix and Namekagon Rivers are fairly remote. In this “canoe” area, the rivers move fast and are too narrow to deploy motorboats. Effectively responding in the remote areas could be limited to shoreline clean-up. The heavy use of the river by recreational canoeists, kayakers and people fishing presents an additional health and safety challenge: notifying river users of the spill, in a remote area, where the speed of the water is likely to carry spillage downstream fast. The Riverway and UMRBA are reaching out to Tribes and tribal agencies in the development of the plan. They met with the Voigt Intertribal Task Force at its July meeting and will include information provided by the Tribes in the spill response plan. When UMRBA completes its spill response plan for the St. Croix watershed,itwillcontainawealthofinformationforlocalandregionalresponders, Saint Croix National Scenic Riverway Spills Reported to MPCA and WI DNR, 2006-2015 Data Source: Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, Wisconsin Dept. of Natural Resources, 2015 (see Spill response page 18) Response training supported by UMRBA near Praire du Chien, Wisconsin, in 2016. Following a classroom safety and response training session, participants from the Wisconsin DNR, Iowa DNR, local governments and oil response organizations took part in tours of land-based equipment stations and participated in on-the-water mock response actions. (Submitted photo)