Feature Stories

In the shade a big cottonwood in Becker County, thousands of dragonflies buzzed around the 40 people passing around handfuls of soil.

“Feel how much lighter that one is? That’s where I’ve been doing no-till since 1990,” Mike Kucera explained. The USDA-NRCS Agronomist brought soil up from his home farm in Lincoln to show the gradient from a dense, compacted roadway to porous, root-filled healthy soil. The difference is stark: a preserved chunk of the healthy soil weighs ~60% of the compacted one.

Mike, along with the Minnesota NRCS and the Minnesota Office for Soil Health, used hands-on demonstrations to teach soil health to employees of local Soil and Water Conservation Districts and NRCS at four locations around Minnesota in June. Participants spent one day learning classroom material, and a second day out in the field, applying what they learned to a farmer’s land. The farmers shared their management practices and answered questions about what it was like to be farming differently from their neighbors.

Ditches convey surface runoff water and subsurface tile drainage from artificially drained agricultural lands and are important to the agricultural economy of Minnesota and other Midwestern states. However, traditional methods of surface and subsurface drainage often result in degraded water quality. There has been increased interest in developing Best Management Practices (BMPs) for mitigating the effects of subsurface drainage. Ideally, a successful BMP would mitigate the negative impact of subsurface drainage while limiting its negative consequences on crop production practices and crops. A potentially successful BMP would be the design of a bioreactor which can mitigate both nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) efficiently under a wide range of flow and environmental conditions. Additionally, the bioreactor would be easily accessible for replacing and recycling the P sorbing and N denitrifying constituents. The effectiveness of a novel bioreactor design that could be placed into or adjacent to agricultural drainage ditches for the removal of N and P was the primary focus of this study.

American Public Media/National Public Radio has launched a podcast series directed towards farmers called Field Work.  The series focuses on topics related to environmental stewardship and sustainability.  

Extension Educators Brad Carlson and Jodi DeJong-Hughes from the Water Resources team were each featured in recent episodes.  DeJong-Hughes was on one of the first episodes and discussed practicing reduced tillage and some of her work and research in that area.  A range of topics were covered including soil health, reducing erosion and compaction. 

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. 

Itasca Waters, a non-profit group in northeastern Minnesota, is building a program with the long-term goal of having healthier shorelines on -- and cleaner water in -- Itasca County’s 457 lakes. To achieve that goal, people will need to change the way they manage their lakefront properties: shorelines restored to native vegetation, surface water runoff redirected away from the lake, septic systems upgraded to meet modern-day standards, smaller lawns and no fertilizers. These are not new ideas … but it’s been hard to implement change on a large scale. How does Itasca Waters plan to get it done?

Routine monitoring of Minnesota water quality using conventional field sampling is challenging and expensive due to the over 10,000 freshwater lakes spread across nearly 87,000 square miles. On the other hand, the University of Minnesota’s Water Resources Center and Remote Sensing and Geospatial Analysis Laboratory have been utilizing the capabilities of satellite imagery to estimate optical water quality parameters from space for over twenty years. 

I have been studying a small shrimp-like organism that lives in the sediment at the bottom of Lake Superior called Diporeia.  Diporeia are vital to the Great Lakes food web as they are rich in lipids and are eaten by commercial species like whitefish as well as smaller fish. They are one of two invertebrate species that drive the food web in Lake Superior along with the zooplankton Mysis. But Diporeia have been disappearing in all of the Great Lakes except for Lake Superior and researchers don’t yet know why. 

In 2018, the UMN Center for Changing Landscapes, in partnership with the IonE Natural Capitol Project, conducted the first-ever statewide survey of Minnesotans on water values.  The survey was created by co-PIs Mae Davenport (FR, WRS faculty) and Bonnie Keeler. The mail survey asked residents about their values, beliefs, and behaviors associated with the state’s waters, and their priorities for water quality spending from the Clean Water Legacy Funds (CWF). Nearly 1500 people across the state responded to the survey. Some key findings are shown in the “Minnesota Water Values” fact sheet. The survey findings have been shared with the Clean Water Council, which advises the State Legislature on its water quality spending decisions.