Feature Stories

Ever since I was young, I have had a passion for the environment. I grew up on a sustainable vegetable farm just outside of Hutchinson, Minnesota. Growing up, gardening was the structure in which I learned. My mom taught me how to interact with the environment without destroying it. We swatted potato beetles into buckets of water and hand picked every weed. I was taught to work with the land instead of bending it to my will. 


In the Water Resources Center’s Onsite Sewage Treatment Program, graduate student Elizabeth Boor isn’t afraid to get down and dirty. This summer she has been collecting septic tank sludge also known as “septage” as a key component to her thesis research. 

In June 2022, we celebrated and toasted Jesse Schomberg as he said goodbye to Minnesota Sea Grant after more than twenty years with the program. We wanted to share a bit more about Jesse and hope you’ll take a few minutes to share in our memories. Most recently, Jesse served as Associate Director of Outreach and Extension Program Leader. As time allowed, he continued to be a stellar Coastal Communities Extension Educator.

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!