Winter 2018 Director's Corner


Water Resources Director Jeff Peterson

Here we are at the beginning of a new year. I hope that the holidays were restful and on behalf of the WRC staff I wish you a fulfilling year ahead.  

Our past year at the WRC was one of change and new growth. As 2017 began, I wrote in this column that we were soon to bid a grateful farewell to Faye Sleeper, who had just announced her plans to retire as our Associate Director. That position was only the most recent of several leadership roles in which Faye had ably served the WRC and Extension during her ten years at the University of Minnesota. Following Faye’s retirement a national search to fill the position ensued through several months of the year.

Our search culminated in November when we announced that Joel Larson, who then directed the Southeast Climate Hub at the US Department of Agriculture, was selected for this important role.  And so it is that in my first Director’s Corner of 2018 I can warmly welcome Joel to the WRC staff and back to his alma mater. Joel is a graduate of the Humphrey School of Public Affairs and officially begins his new role on January 29. You can read a brief background article about Joel in this issue and in spring you can look forward to reading more about his vision for his job and for the WRC.  

Joel’s arrival follows the addition of two staff members in 2017, Lucia Levers and Douglas Johnson, both of whom we introduced in the fall 2017 Community News. We expect further growth in our staff in the future, thanks in part to initiatives and projects launched in the last year. I briefly mentioned one such activity in my fall 2017 column, a project sponsored by the National Science Foundation, which we describe more fully in an article in this issue.  Another initiative we were pleased to help launch in 2017 is the Minnesota Office for Soil Health (MOSH), co-sponsored by the Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources and the WRC. The centerpiece of MOSH is a new state Soil Health Specialist position, for which a national search is progressing with finalist interviews expected in the next few months.  Yet another cluster of initiatives revolve around the topic of urban stormwater.  As John Bilotta wrote in an a summer 2017 Minnegram article, the WRC coordinates a Clean Water Fund project that will develop a Stormwater Research Roadmap for Minnesota. In addition, the WRC facilitates the Minnesota Stormwater Research Council, which sponsors applied stormwater research by pooling funds from its member organizations of cities, watershed organizations, and other entities.

A central part of the WRC’s mission is to convene stakeholders and experts on pressing water resource topics and we were pleased to sponsor or co-sponsor several convening events in 2017. Some highlights included the Minnesota Wetlands Conference; the Shared Water Shared Responsibility open forum hosted by the Water Resources Students in Action; the Minnesota Climate Adaptation Partnership track sessions at the National Adaptation Forum; and, of course, the annual Minnesota Water Resources Conference. An article in this issue recaps the 2017 Water Resources Conference, which drew another record-breaking attendance. In case you missed them or would like to view something again, videorecordings of the keynote talks and electronic visuals from all breakout presentations are now posted on the conference website. Several events that we’ll be co-sponsoring are already planned for 2018, including the first ever Water Resources Assembly and Research Symposium (January 19), a workshop on harmful algal blooms (March 29), the Minnesota Climate Adaptation Conference (November 14), and yes, the 2018 Minnesota Water Resources Conference (October 16-17).

The Minnegram itself went through a major change last year, merging with the Shore to Shore newsletter from the Extension Water Resources Team starting with the spring 2017 issue. The current issue continues the enhanced format with in-depth articles from our Extension partners, this time with a theme of lake management. Shahram Missaghi provides an introduction to lake management concepts  including emerging tools and approaches. Mary Hannemann and Erin Meier from the Rural Sustainable Development Partnership, together with Cole Reagan, a WRS graduate student, write about their collaboration to develop a lake management plan for Cedar Lake in response to local needs.

As we advance into a new year, I would like to acknowledge our staff, past and present. They are the force that built our capacity and continue to drive our programs forward.  We were delighted that Faye Sleeper and Deb Swackhamer, who served together as WRC co-directors for several years, both received awards in 2017. Faye was honored by the Minnesota Climate Adaptation Partnership (MCAP) for her “her years of contribution to spearheading the formation, composition, and direction of the MCAP group.” Deb was awarded the Warren Hall medal by the Universities Council on Water Resources, recognizing career achievement for national contributions in water research and education. As we embark on new ventures I’m reminded that we are positioned to make new advances only because of a lasting legacy of dedicated work from our staff.  

With best wishes for the coming year,