Feature Stories

Eco-journalist Mark Hertsgaard didn’t mince words during his speech at the Minnesota Climate Adaptation Conference, held November 14, 2018 at the Continuing Education Building on the UMN St. Paul campus. Climate change threats are “an emergency,” and he urged his audience of 225 to maintain their courage as they tackle climate change and adapt to life in an already damaged environment. “Mitigation and adaptation are dual imperatives.”

The 2018 Minnesota Water Resources conference opened with the presentation of the Dave Ford award to Suzanne Jiwani, a flood plain mapping engineer for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR). In her work at the DNR, Jiwani brings technical expertise and sound science to complex projects. Dave Ford was a mentor to her in her early days at the DNR, who told her “Make your decisions based on facts, recognize your assumptions and always go back to get more data.”

Ann Lewandowski and partners at the University of Wisconsin, Purdue University, and the North Central Region Water Network are developing training and support resources for users of the Agricultural Conservation Planning Framework (ACPF). The resources are available at the new website: acpf4watersheds.org.

Even as a 4Her growing up on the family farm in Iowa, young Les Everett was looking for ways to improve soil health and the environment. One of his 4H projects showed the importance of check dams in slowing down water flow and the accompanying soil erosion. Eventually those interests brought him to the Water Resources Center, where after 23 years of work he retired from this past May.

Salt is used every day in many applications.  People add salt to food, apply salt to pavement and roads after snowfall, and use salt in their water softeners.  While salt is inexpensive to purchase, it can have a high environmental cost, as elevated chloride levels are toxic to many plant and aquatic species.  The most commonly used salts contain chloride and research has shown that chloride levels are increasing in rivers, lakes, streams, and groundwater across North America.  In Minnesota, there are 50 water bodies that exceed water quality standards for chloride and many wells have also demonstrated increasing trends for chloride, particularly the Twin Cities Metropolitan Area (TCMA). Additionally, many municipalities in the state have high chloride levels in their wastewater treatment plant effluent and reasonable potential to exceed chloride water quality standards.

Nitrate levels above the drinking water standard of 10 ppm are frequently found in subsurface drainage tile water or groundwater below farm fields of the upper Midwest. Nitrogen comes from applied manure and fertilizer, along with natural mineralization of organic matter.

Nitrogen pollution.  The term is inextricably linked with growing corn: here in Minnesota, and all along the Mississippi river basin.  The consequences of nitrogen runoff are becoming more well-known—algal blooms and the Dead Zone in the Gulf of Mexico are now part of the popular lexicon. In fact, USA Today, has run articles on both topics—the latest of which focuses on a scientific study describing how long term changes in agricultural practices will be necessary to bring the Dead Zone into compliance—and even then, it would take many years for all the excess nitrogen currently in the system to work its way out.