Feature Stories

On March 12, current National Institutes on Water Resources (NIWR ) president Oklahoma Water Resources Center director Kevin Wagner announced that WRC director Jeffrey Peterson had been elected NIWR President-elect for 2023. While Peterson did not pursue election, he feels that the progress Minnesota has made in protecting water resources through proven research applications brought national attention to the Center.

Of the 600,000 subsurface sewage treatment systems (SSTS) processing over 40 billion gallons of wastewater per year in Minnesota, estimates put 25% of these SSTS on or near shoreland. Final treatment of sewage occurs in the soil within the septic  system drain field. Researchers are exploring the benefits of Biochar and iron-enhanced sand (IES) in boosting the effectiveness of soil filtration. Clean water relies on natural soil treatment of septic system effluent for nutrient and bacteria removal. PI Sara Heger (Water Resources Center, Onsite Sewage Treatment Program) is hopeful that this project will show that conventional soil-based septic system performance can be enhanced with the addition of biochar and/or IES. “Successful incorporation of Biochar and IES into soil treatment systems could be a game-changer for septic systems in fragile ecosystems like lakeshore properties,” said Heger.

Teams of researchers, practitioners and professionals continue their quest to discover new solutions and develop new methods to help minimize and prevent the impacts of urban stormwater runoff to Minnesota’s lakes, streams, rivers and groundwater. 

Like many events in 2020, the Minnesota Water Resources Conference went virtual and drew one of the largest group of participants in its history, with over 800 water resource professionals.  The conference featured keynote speakers, concurrent sessions and a live virtual poster session using a new online platform called Slack.  85% of participants indicated they would recommend the conference to colleagues.  Going virtual had some added advantages.  Concurrent presentations and posters were available to conference participants – which allowed easy access to the many important topics and issues facing Minnesota water resources.

Groundwater and drinking water issues are being brought to our attention more and more every year in Minnesota. Everything from health issues to limited supply and treatment costs are making headlines. In 2018 a workgroup made up of representatives from several state agencies and the University of Minnesota, started a project to create an educational course for local government and natural resource managers focused on the basics of groundwater. After surveying the audience and much background work, the development of the information and materials started in 2019 and was completed as an online, self-paced course. The course is held on the platform Canvas through the University of Minnesota Extension.

I joined the WRC as an Extension Educator focusing on agricultural water quality in March 2020, just after the work from home order began. Although starting a new job while working from home has certainly been a unique experience, I have been grateful to take this time to learn more about the intersection of agriculture and water quality in Minnesota through several different online resources, some of which I would not have been able to attend before the online programming shift!

Leah Prussia, Associate Professor, Social Work, College of St. Scholastica,  led the attendees into their arrival to the virtual Climate Adaptation conference January 20, 2021. She invited all to think about who we are in relationship to the land versus who we are as individuals. People are all indigenous to somewhere; at one time we all moved through the world with care and concern. In the past, we were driven to be good ancestors, considering the “swimmers, fliers and crawlers” as well as humans.

Prussia encouraged her listeners to bring their bodies as well as their heads to the conference space, as “knowledge is only a rumor until it lives in the body.”

The Watershed Game Coast Model is a recent adaptation of the original versions of the widely-used education and training tool. The new model is intended to be used with coastal communities and focus on reducing nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment in coastal waters while enhancing community resilience to flooding.   

Like many annual events, this year’s Soil Management Summit (SMS), formerly known as the Conservation Tillage Conference or CTC, has had to make the transition from in-person to online.

The SMS planning committee wanted to ensure the health and wellbeing of participants, vendors, and everyone else involved in the summit's production while maintaining the high standard of programmatic content the event has provided over the years. As the COVID-19 situation has evolved, the committee  made the decision that this event will be offered online only.


When the COVID-19 shutdown stretched into weeks with no clear end, staff at the Onsite Sewage Treatment Program (OSTP) moved nimbly to adapt their programming. This has included offering synchronous and asynchronous online workshops, hybrid classes with online training and in-person field sessions, and fully in-person trainings with reduced class sizes and additional safety protocols.

With over 25 percent of Minnesota households relying on septic systems to treat their sewage and wastewater, trained septic professionals are critical to building and maintaining systems that efficiently treat waste and protect the surrounding environment.

OSTP, housed within the Water Resources Center, has been providing training workshops in partnership with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency since the 1970’s. Minnesota state law requires that septic professional attend certification workshops to obtain their licenses to install and service septic systems, so it was critical to continue to offer training opportunities.