Feature Stories

Every spring, as tractors and planters spread out across rural Minnesota, seeding the earth with what will become the annual crop of corn, soybeans, wheat and other agricultural commodities, University of Minnesota researchers are out in full force, as well.  They use flagging and GPS to establish research plots on University research farms or private farms across the state, planting and fertilizing these controlled experiments in order to expand our knowledge on how to effectively manage insect pests, diseases, and nutrients. 

Based on responses from an online survey, and in consultation with campus web experts, the UMN Extension water team created and organized their extensive set of tools, materials and information to help Minnesotans manage our valuable water resources.

Agricultural Conservation Planning Framework (ACPF) is a planning tool which identifies specific locations and opportunities on agricultural landscapes to implement conservation practices. Watershed coordinators use detailed ACPF maps to focus fieldwork and to help explain local issues and opportunities to farmers and landowners and engage them in designing solutions. 

The University of Minnesota Water Resources Center, with support from the Environmental Protection Agency and in partnership with the University of Wisconsin Extension, Purdue University, and local agency partners, hosted the second of three scheduled Watershed Applications of ACPF workshops January 6-7, 2020.  More than 20 watershed coordinators from throughout the Midwest attended to learn and share how ACPF can be used in watershed-scale conservation planning and implementation.

By Lesley Knoll

It’s springtime; birds are on the move and it is the time of year when lake ice-outs spread northward in Minnesota. Local and worldwide ice records were collected before we had weather stations and they provide an independent set of human observations. These records help us to see that over the past century, lakes around the Northern Hemisphere have earlier ice break-up, later ice formation, and shorter seasons of ice cover. Some areas also experience increased frequency in freeze-thaw events.

Minnesota lakes are not immune and long-term ice cover trends here mirror those worldwide. Winter is important to us in our state where the season is long and outdoor activities can be key to our well-being. Part of our love for winter is connected to lake ice and the cultural, social, and economic benefits we receive from it. In our study, we looked at consequences of ice loss on these benefits ranging from recreation, social relations, spiritual connections, to capturing the frozen landscape on your phone’s camera.

The University of Minnesota’s Water Resources Center (WRC) was recognized by the United States Geological Survey (USGS) as operating at an outstanding level. Specifically, the WRC was lauded for its diversity of chosen water projects, collaborations with other institutions and agencies, student support through grants, real-world impact on local water management. The WRC is one of just 12 out of 54 national water centers to be given this recognition as part of a five year review by the USGS.

By Ann Lewandowski
In Minnesota, we have a remarkably effective and efficient system providing safe drinking water. But these systems face significant challenges, including an increasing array of potential contaminants from agricultural, industrial, and personal use; complex and aging infrastructure; extreme weather events; and declining populations in some communities.

To help prepare for these challenges, the Minnesota Department of Health approached the Water Resources Center and the Humphrey School of Public Affairs to identify opportunities for MDH to better manage risks to drinking water. The University of Minnesota team recently completed a final project report summarizing 18 months of searching literature, examining work in other jurisdictions, and meeting with advisory panels of drinking water stakeholders and technical experts.

Water Resources Center Director Jeff Peterson welcomed the Research symposium attendees and introduced CFANS Associate Dean for Research and Graduate Programs Greg Cuomo. Cuomo spoke of water being a large part of the CFANS academic portfolio, benefiting Minnesota, the US and the world. Events like the symposium assist in taking research to the next level, collaborating across disciplines, colleges and professions, and leaving the gathering at the end of the day with new working relationships.

The 2020 Climate Adaptation Conference, Crossing Boundaries – Sparking Collaboration highlighted accomplishments and challenges for communities that are adapting to a changing climate. The conference keynote speaker Elizabeth Gibbons echoed Deanna Standingcloud’s opening exhortation to “go gently, go together.”

The Watershed Game has extended its reach to the coast along the Gulf of Mexico. Now under development, new coast models for both the Local Leader and Classroom Versions will be available in 2020.The new coast models not only expand the Watershed Game’s geographic representation and use, but also add excess nitrogen as a pollutant of concern to excess phosphorus and sediment, the two pollutants addressed by the game currently. The new coast models also incorporate approaches to increasing community resilience in the face of extreme storms and sea level rise. 

Nitrates originating from agricultural situations have been a focus of water quality work in both surface and ground water in Minnesota for the past couple of decades.  The Nitrogen Smart educational program was developed in 2016 to teach farmers how nitrogen behaves in the environment.  It proactively addresses issues related to fertilizer application practices with the ultimate goal of seeing an increase in voluntary best practice use.  Increasing farm profitability through efficient nitrogen use is a co-objective of the Nitrogen Smart program.