Feature Stories

The use of satellite imagery to measure water quality conditions in lakes and other surface waters has made tremendous advances in the last 20 years – from a technique typically viewed by limnologists as more a curiosity than a viable measurement approach to a sophisticated technique now producing critical and detailed data on major water quality characteristics, such as chlorophyll, suspended solids, colored dissolved organic matter and water clarity, at spatial scales impossible or impractical to achieve by conventional land-based sampling approaches.

In May 2019, about 30 miles from the Minnesota shoreline, eleven people — UMD students, staff, faculty, and ship’s crew — began assembling, as Jay Austin from UMD's Large Lakes Observatory (LLO) says, “an enormous horizontal mooring” to gather data about convective cells in Lake Superior. The crew built it piece by piece on deck, and as the components were ready, lowered them deep into the lake. When they completed the endeavor, the structure dwarfed Duluth’s Aerial Lift Bridge.

Over a million Minnesotans depend on private wells for drinking water, which makes recent news of arsenic found in groundwater important. About half of new private wells have detectable arsenic in their well water, and about 150,000 people use groundwater sources with arsenic concentrations exceeding the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s drinking water standard.

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.