MN water conference committee members look back while planning for the future

The Minnesota Water Resources Conference brings back its mix of water research, policy and practice to the St. Paul RiverCentre October 15-16, 2019.  In keynote talks and breakout sessions, attendees learn about strides in current research and application of research on the landscape. Keynote speakers this year are University of Minnesota president Joan Gabel, NPR meteorologist Paul Huttner and UMN faculty Don Wyse and Nick Jordan who will speak jointly about the Forever Green Initiative. 

The annual conference is the result of eleven months of planning meetings, during which committee members assess the pros and cons of past conferences, review hundreds of abstracts for break out and poster sessions and choose keynote speakers for the upcoming conference.

Minnegram asked committee members Karen Jensen and Mark Brigham for their thoughts about the conference, its value to attendees and memorable moments.

What do you hope attendees gain from the conference?

Mark: A useful take away that is new and applies to their work--either information or a methodological approach. And pride in being part of a truly great community of water-resources professionals in Minnesota. 

Karen: New technical information, of course. I also hope attendees can expand their professional networks, meeting new colleagues who will bring energy and inspiration to their day-to-day work.

What benefits and /or challenges did you see resulting from the 2005 merger of the Minnesota Waters Conference and the Water Resources Conference?

Karen:  I clearly see the benefits. The merger brought together the disciplines of water resources engineering and water resources sciences, creating a unified, but yet diverse audience: a good mix for innovation and learning. The field of water resources management has become less “siloed” over time: practitioners need to understand multiple aspects of the field (both science and engineering) to truly become accomplished.

Mark:  One challenge is ensuring that there are consistently tracks that professional engineers find useful and relevant to their work. We have some consulting engineers on the planning committee and that needs to continue because it's critical to ensuring that their perspectives help shape the conference.

It’s wonderful that the conference has grown to be so successful. Can you point to some concrete outcomes of the conference? Policies enacted, resource management changes, or devices put onto the landscape that were introduced at the conference?

Mark: The 2014 special session Sulfate, Mercury, and Wild Rice was an excellent roll-out of research that supported development of the update to Minnesota's water-quality standard for sulfate in waters that support wild rice.

Karen: I’ll throw out the example of green-infrastructure stormwater management. Years ago, I heard presentations at the conference about the emerging field of “stormwater infiltration” to manage runoff. Within a couple of years, infiltration had grown into “low impact development”, and now that field has grown into green-infrastructure stormwater management. The entire arc of this crucial field of water management was exhibited by presentations at the conference over two decades.

What are your most memorable moments from the conference over the years?

Mark: Ray Archuletta's plenary presentation from the 2018 conference was outstanding, inspiring, and had broad societal relevance.  

Karen: Hands down, Governor Dayton’s appearance and Water Resources Professionals Week proclamation presentation. The Governor was amazed at the conference attendance numbers and how many professionals were working to protect Minnesota’s waters. 
Also, moment Jeff and I accepted the proclamation from Governor Dayton remains a highlight of my career.

What is your favorite part of the conference?

Mark: I always enjoy reconnecting with my fellow graduate students from about thirty years ago.  We all took different paths, but it's great to see the different ways we continue to contribute and do interesting work. And I equally enjoy reconnecting with the many friends and colleagues I've made in Minnesota's water resources community since graduate school.  Hallway chatter and the poster / social hour sessions are invaluable.   

Karen: The energy in the room in the first moments on the first day; I love looking around at the attendees and see all the new faces, particularly of students and young professionals – the appearance of the next generation who will take on the mantle of caring for Minnesota’s waters. And I especially love to see how many young women are present – this is such a change over when I joined the water resources profession, and it delights me to no end.

conference panorama

The Minnesota Water Resources Conference is sponsored by the Water Resources Center and the College of Continuing and Professional Studies. The conference is co-sponsored  the Department of Civil, Environmental, and Geo- Engineering, College of Science and Engineering, University of Minnesota Minnesota Section, American Society of Civil Engineers Minnesota Sea Grant College Program, University of Minnesota and the Natural Resources Research Institute, University of Minnesota.

View the history of the conference through archived programs and abstracts