Summer is Finally Here!

President's Message | May/June 2022

Summer is finally here! As I write this, I am thinking of my recent trip to Rainy Lake. For the past three summers, my family and I have gone up to Voyageurs National Park, where we enjoy fishing, being surrounded with nature, and boating to our campsite far from modern amenities. For those of you who are not familiar with this national park, it is a secret gem located at the Minnesota-Ontario border. Rainy Lake is only one of a series of big lakes in the park.

Unfortunately, our family vacation had a few hiccups this year. Water levels were unprecedentedly high. Our stays at first and alternative campsites were canceled. Boat launches were closed. Homes near the shore were surrounded by water, and makeshift pathways were created to access them. To put it in perspective, Rainy Lake’s water level was seven feet above normal. The dam controlling the water level was fully open, releasing water to the Rainy River at a rate of 50,000 cubic feet per second, but water was draining into Rainy Lake even faster (70,000 cubic feet per second). What would this area look like if the dam were not there?

The Rainy Lake Dam has been part of that landscape since the turn of the 20th century. Edward Willington Backus saw an opportunity to enhance his bottom line by damming Rainy Lake at the Rainy River. The dam brought power to residents in 1907. To this day, the dam is operational, and paper mills are working on both sides of the border. Backus had plans to grow his industry in the Rainy watershed with seven more dams. But several wilderness advocates, including Ernest Oberholtzer, Franck Hubacheck, and Sig Olson, launched a campaign to protect these waters from power development, putting a stop to Backus’s scheme. As a consequence, Congress passed the Shipstead-Nolan Act, which prohibited further hydropower development in the Superior National Forest.

A hundred years later, we are still discussing the complexity of dams: some are still operational, some are not, and some are being created. Dams are still a tool in the toolbox. As with any tool, we need to ask: Is a dam the right tool? If not, what do we do? Come explore the many aspects of dams in this issue of IMPACT. Bring your travel gear—this one is taking you across the globe.

Finally, a big thank you to the GWTC Conference Planning Committee and the Alabama Conference Planning Committee for two great conferences! Planning a conference is no easy task, and these two in-person conferences were terrific successes. Please save the date for the Annual Conference, taking place November 7–9 in Seattle. Hope to see you there.

Have a great summer everyone!

Claire Bleser is the 2022 president of AWRA.


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