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Highway 61 at the mouth of the Onion River east of Tofte. Image courtesy of M. Baxley, Bear Witness Media.

Rivers of Lake Superior’s North Shore: Historical Methodology and Ojibwe Dialects

By Erik Martin Redix. The drive along the North Shore of Lake Superior between Duluth and the international border on Highway 61 is an iconic Minnesota experience. At just over three hours long, the trip offers unparalleled scenery in the upper Midwest. Visitors pass through a handful of small towns and over two dozen short scenic rivers along the shore of Lake Superior. These rivers are narrow and relatively short, descending anywhere from 20 to 40 miles down the rugged landscape of Minnesota’s North Shore into Lake Superior. For example, Brule Lake, the source of the Temperance River (and the South Brule River as well) sits 1,851 feet above sea level and, over 39 miles of North Shore terrain, it descends to 697 feet above sea level at its mouth. These steep descents result in dozens of waterfalls that beckon visitors from across Minnesota and North America.

The North Shore lies within the traditional historical territory of two modern tribal nations: the Grand Portage Band of Lake Superior Chippewa and the Fort William First Nation.

Aerial photograph of Minneapolis and St. Anthony Falls over the Stone Arch Bridge. Image via Unsplash by Nicole Geri.

On The Physicality of Hope

By Joanne Richardson. We depend on water to sustain us, yet threats to our biogeophysical and social systems, which directly impact our water, are numerous. However, people are not sitting idle. They are tackling these challenges with analysis and action, in ways that ignite hope.

Hope can grow in both grand and unassuming ways. The drama and magic of a new law, policy, or initiative may be fleeting, but these small, unromantic efforts are the bedrock of our water futures, shaping them into more just and sustainable paths.

The St. Louis River in Jay Cooke State Park in northern Minnesota. Image via Unsplash by Ricky Turner.

Rights of Nature and the St. Louis River Estuary

By Emily Levang. What if we related to water as our kin? I went to the St. Louis River estuary in early January together with my friend Cristin, who shares a dedication to care for this ecosystem. This estuary is the largest tributary to Lake Superior, which holds 10 percent of our entire world’s fresh surface water. As our world heads deeper into the water crisis, protecting this source of life is ever more vital. I try to begin with listening.

Crew excavating eroding house at Walakpa in 2017. Image courtesy of the Walakpa Archaeological Salvage Project.

Libraries Burning

By Phyllis Mauch Messenger. For much of the planet, 2023 was the warmest year on record, and the 12 warmest years have all been documented since 2005.[i] The repercussions of this warming pattern, of undeniable climate change, are both dauntingly real and not yet fully knowable, both immediately problematic and also intensifying over time.

The article republished here demonstrates a commitment to action and hope in the face of climate change. In 2019, Phyllis Mauch Messenger detailed the work of several archaeological projects across the Arctic region focusing on salvaging materials long held in permafrost landscapes that are at risk due to warming temperatures.

Detail from The Keeyask Dam site on the Nelson River, 2019. Image courtesy of Aaron Vincent Elkaim.

Stories to the Surface: Revealing the Impacts of Hydroelectric Development in Manitoba

By Caroline Fidan Tyler Doenmez. Manitoba, although known as one of Canada’s prairie provinces, is arguably more defined by its waterways. One story tells that the very name “Manitoba” was born from water, derived from the Cree words Manitou, “Great Spirit,” and wapow, “sacred water,” to describe the sound of waves crashing against an island on Lake Manitoba (Sinclair and Cariou 2011, 4–5). The Red and Assiniboine Rivers, two prominent entities of movement and memory, meet in the heart of the province’s capital city of Winnipeg. The northward-flowing Red River empties into Lake Winnipeg, the tenth-largest freshwater lake in the world. The northern area of the province is dappled and threaded with thousands of lakes, abundant rivers, and watersheds. It is here, in the north, that water has been harnessed and commodified as a source of energy by Manitoba Hydro for the past six decades. Today, according to provincial and Manitoba Hydro websites, a staggering 97 percent of electricity generated in Manitoba is derived from hydropower (Manitoba Hydro 2023a, 9).

Poster for UPRIVER: A Watershed Film. Image courtesy of Freshwaters Illustrated.

Reflections on UPRIVER: A Watershed Film

By Chris O’Brien. As part of the longstanding Moos Family Speaker Series on Water Resources, Freshwater and the UMN College of Biological Sciences presented a screening of UPRIVER: A Watershed Film, on December 5, 2023, at The Main Cinema in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The sold-out event featured a post-show panel discussion with Carrie Jennings (Research and Policy Director, Freshwater), Jacques Finlay (Professor of Ecology, Evolution and Behavior, University of Minnesota), John Whitehead (Filmmaker, Fretless Films), and Patrick Moore (Emerging Systems Consulting).

This hour-long documentary, produced by Freshwaters Illustrated and directed by Jeremy Monroe and David Herasimtschuk, is an inspiring look at the successful conservation efforts underway on Oregon’s Willamette River system. Freshwaters Illustrated is a nonprofit organization based in Corvallis, Oregon, dedicated to raising awareness of freshwater biodiversity, ecosystems, and conservation.

2014 flood in the Detroit metro area. Image via Flickr by Michigan State Police Emergency Management and Homeland Security Division. CC BY-ND 2.10 DEED

Ghost Streams and Redlining

By Jacob Napieralski. In 2021, metro Detroit was hit with a rainstorm so severe that President Joe Biden issued a major disaster declaration at state officials’ request.

Nearly 8 inches of rain fell within 24 hours, closing every major freeway and causing massive damage to homes and businesses. The storm was of a severity historically seen in Detroit every 500 to 1,000 years.

The Coosa River in Wetumpka, Alabama, after rain. This portion of the river is below the Jordan Dam. Image via Flickr by brian_esquire. CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 Deed.

Centering Water: Practices of Commitment

By Boyce Upholt, Katie Hart Potapoff, Michael Anderson, Britt Gangeness, Angie Hong, Coosa Riverkeeper, Greg Seitz, and Andy Erickson. Water is part of our everyday lives. We depend on clean water for health and sanitation, for livelihoods and recreation, for habitats, histories, and futures. Since water is so important to humans (and nonhumans) in myriad ways, how do we demonstrate our reciprocal commitment to water?

The Mekong River winds through six countries, across 2,700 miles (about 4,350 kilometers) from the mountains to the sea. Image via Unsplash by Parker Hilton.

Introduction to Issue 25 | Rivers & Borders

On a map, the defined line of a river makes a compelling case for becoming a border. The line crisply delineates one space from another, dividing lands and creating distinctions between peoples, cultures, economies, and more. Certainly, these bodies of water have been adopted as borders with some frequency. A recent study published in Water Policy determined that rivers currently make up 23 percent of international borders, not to mention creating borders at provincial, state, and local levels as well (Popelka and Smith 2020).

Historical Grace Chapel Church at the intersection of Big Bull Landing Road and Bucksport Road, entering Bucksport community. Image courtesy of Geoffrey Habron.

Socio-Ecological System of Flooding in Bucksport, South Carolina

There is growing awareness that climate change has the potential to deepen inequalities, especially regarding the threat of riverine flooding. For example, the United States published its Fifth National Climate Assessment in 2023 and for the first time dedicated an entire chapter to Social Systems and Justice (Marino et al. 2023). But just as importantly, how we decide to respond to climate change also runs the risk of having disproportionate and differentiated impacts (Petersen & Ducros 2022). We must ask ourselves: Resilience and adaptation for whom?

The main Tamar crossing at Saltash, engraved from a painting by J. M. W. Turner around 1830.

A Fluid Border: The River Tamar and Constructed Difference in Travel Writing of Cornwall

The Tamar is a relatively modest river. With a length of just 61 miles, and an average discharge at the upper tidal limit of just 807 cubic feet per second, it is dwarfed by other British rivers such as the Severn and the Thames. But despite its small scale, the Tamar has a heightened cultural significance: for more than a thousand years it has served as the border between the bulk of England to the east and Cornwall—a region with some distinct quasi-national characteristics—to the west. Nineteenth- and twentieth-century travel writers’ accounts of crossing this border have tended to construct the Tamar as a site of absolute transition from familiarity to otherness—a construction which has at times intersected with (and arguably informed) the emergence of modern identities of difference from within Cornwall.