Fall 2021 Director's Corner

Dear Friends,


On behalf of the WRC staff, I bring you warm greetings in this final Minnegram of 2021. The close of another year invites us all to reflect and to look ahead. 

Over the past year our WRC team continued to change and grow. We previously announced the arrival of Maggie Karschnia, who fills a unique Extension Educator position in a partnership between the WRC and the Minnesota Sea Grant Program. In October, we welcomed Nathan Landwehr as a program and project specialist in the Onsite Sewage Treatment Program.  Several more positions are at various stages of the hiring process and we look forward to welcoming additional team members in the coming months. Some of our recent and upcoming hires fill open positions but the majority are new, reflecting the growth of programs to address our complex water resource challenges.

As Minnegram readers know, one such challenge is the impairment of water resources from nutrient loading. Nitrogen and phosphorus are widely applied as fertilizers because they are essential for plants, but they are easily lost to the environment in human-altered landscapes. This issue features two articles relating to the complicated interactions between water and nutrients.  In the new Story of Nitrogen podcast, Greg Klinger explains the many ways that nitrogen moves around in the environment through water, soil, plants, and the atmosphere, affecting a surprising number of features in the world around us. Larry Baker and Kate Carlson explain how nutrients impact lakes in urban environments and describe their project to map the numerous nutrient-impaired urban lakes across the state. 

As Baker and Carlson point out, the growth in data collection is a promising trend for improving water resource management. The “data revolution,” as it is often called, refers to a collection of recent data science methods that often reveal new insights from large and detailed datasets. The data revolution continues to transform a number of fields from health care to robotics, and an interdisciplinary team describes some of the ways that the data revolution is coming to the water sciences. The authors are a group of hydrologists and data scientists who have been applying an approach called knowledge-guided machine learning to improve the hydrological models. Those improvements would generate more detailed and more accurate information for watershed planning, flood control, contaminant transport, and many other water management problems.

Nutrient management and hydrology were among the numerous topics presented at the Minnesota Water Resources Conference in October. Held in a virtual setting for the second consecutive year during the Covid pandemic, the conference was as vibrant as ever with more than 120 speakers and a record audience of over 900 participants. Special sessions are an increasingly prominent part of the conference that allow for community-driven discussion of emerging topics. If you have an idea for a special session at the 2022 conference, the planning committee would like to hear from you! You can submit your idea through a simple online form before March 25. 

Another memory I’ll have from 2021 is that we lost two giants from the water resources community. As we reported earlier, former WRC co-director Deb Swackhamer passed away in April. In September, we learned of the unexpected death of Len Ferrington, a professor of entomology and a beloved member of the Water Resources Science (WRS) faculty. His WRS colleague Lucinda Johnson wrote about Len’s lifelong contributions to freshwater science and the positive impacts he had on fellow researchers and students.

I have heard many reflections on the lives and careers of Deb and Len over the past year. A recurring theme is that they both were driven to make the future a better place, and one of the key ways they did so was to mentor, support, and inspire people early in their careers. That’s a motivation that many in this community share, and it’s in that spirit that the Minnesota Water Resource Conference planning committee created the Deborah L. Swackhamer Early Career Award. The award will be presented annually at the conference starting in 2022. Do you know of early career individuals who are leading the way to a better future? If so I hope you’ll consider nominating them. 

With warm wishes,