The Extension Water Team; new programs and boots on the ground benefit water resources

By Joel Larson, WRC Associate Director

With more than 11,000 lakes, 69,000 miles of rivers and streams, 10 million acres of wetlands, and complex groundwater hydrology, Minnesota’s water resources are diverse. Those resources have a correspondingly complex set of challenges. Over the past several months, the WRC’s Extension water resources team has grown to help ensure that we have the background, technical knowledge, and relationships to respond. In this article, we want to share some examples of activities that the team has lead over the past few years, changes in the recent months, and the direction we will head in the future.

In north-central Minnesota, Karen Terry is working with Itasca Waters to create a team of citizen volunteers to serve as a resource for shoreland property owners who are exploring changes to their landscape to protect and improve water quality. Karen will be hosting a series of training opportunities and developing supporting materials for the Shoreland Advisors so they are confident, prepared, and effective when meeting with property owners. Karen provides more information on the program in the Spring 2019 Minnegram.

Another focus of the water team is urban stormwater management, and Shahram Missaghi is continuing to offer a two-day class on the inspection and maintenance of stormwater practices. The course offers real life case studies, hands-on field experience, and classroom exercises to help participants learn the latest on stormwater practices' operations, how to assess the effectiveness of current practices by using visual inspection forms and to create and execute a maintenance work plan. The class on May 7 and 8 reached capacity, but he will be representing UMN Extension nationally at a similar one-day short course at the 2019 ASCE-WERI Conference in August.

One of the new additions to the Extension water resources team is Brad Carlson, who is actually not new to Extension. Brad will be continuing his role as an Extension educator, focusing on agriculture, nutrient management, and water quality. Over the past several years, Brad has lead the development of the Nitrogen Smart program, which is supported by the Minnesota Corn Growers Association. The program presents fundamentals for maximizing economic return on nitrogen investments while minimizing nitrogen losses, including into water.

Another new addition is Jodi DeJong-Hughes, who will continue her work on soil health and its benefits to water management. Jodi has lead Minnesota’s contribution to the CTC, once known as the Conservation Tillage Conference but has broadened to include topics such as cover crops, weed management, and nutrient management in high-residue systems. The next CTC will be held December 17-18 in St. Cloud and is being planned in collaboration with the Minnesota Office of Soil Health.

Brad and Jodi are bringing a wealth of knowledge and relationships to the water resources team. We are looking forward to their help growing our connections between water and crops management and ensuring that a range of voices are at the table as we work to address the state’s water challenges.

Along these lines, we are pleased to announce that Anne Nelson will be joining the team as our newest AGREETT Extension educator, focused on rural watersheds and agricultural water quality. Over the next several months, Anne will be developing her programs and activities, which will leverage her background in soil science and nitrate leaching. In her previous work, she and fellow educator Greg Klinger focused on agricultural water quality, nitrogen fertilizer, and groundwater management. Greg will also be working with the water resources team to address nitrogen management and water quality issues across Southeast Minnesota.

Not all of our changes are additions, however. John Bilotta left his Extension position in February, but thankfully he is not going far. He accepted a new position in the WRC, working on stormwater research, outreach, and Extension (among other projects). John is joining Ann Lewandowki and Adam Wilke as a team of research and Extension coordinators to help the WRC continue to build connections across the spectrum from research to implementation.
These examples are only a glimpse into what the Extension team is doing, and with this growth and change, we are looking forward to working with our partners and stakeholders to address the wide range of water challenges we face in the state.