Feature Stories

The policy and economics of hypoxia in the Gulf of Mexico, management of surface and groundwater, and the political polarization of science were on the topic menu at the 2013 Minnesota Water Conference, held October 15 and 16, at the St. Paul RiverCentre. The conference opened with the presentation of the Dave Ford Award. Civil Engineering Professor Emeritus Heinz Stefan, a former Dave Ford Award winner, presented this year’s award to Professor John Gulliver (WRS faculty, CE). The award recognizes individuals whose lifetime accomplishments contribute to improving Minnesota's water quality. Stefan enumerated Gulliver’s many professional achievements in studying surface gas transfer early in his career, up to his current role in investigating aeration on turbine blades and in turbine draft tubes to raise dissolved oxygen levels downstream from hydropower stations. Recently, Gulliver and his students developed urban stormwater best management practices that remove nutrients, chemicals, and sediments from urban stormwater runoff. Stefan also noted Gulliver’s significant role as mentor in the lives of his students, “He has had an impact on the development of many engineering students, and has advised over 70 graduate students to the completion of their degrees. Some of them are here with us today.”

University of Minnesota Extension educator Randy Pepin, a former livestock industry consultant, hopes to make grid soil sampling a common practice among farmers who choose to use livestock manure. Grid soil sampling can be a cost effective way for farmers to target their nutrient application while reducing the amount of phosphorus entering the watershed.

At the inaugural Preparing Minnesota for Climate Change: A Conference on Climate Adaptation, climatologist Mark Seeley brought home the effects of climate change by making it personal. Seeley opened conference at the Science Museum of Minnesota, November 7, 2013. He told the 250 plus audience members that we can see the effects of a warming climate in our own backyard. More disease and pests are surviving our warmer winters. Roads deteriorate faster as the asphalt thaws and freezes more frequently throughout the winter season. Minnesotans sensitive to mold and allergies are enduring longer allergy seasons.

Summer is bringing more heat wave episodes, which directly affects our lives and livelihoods, as stressed livestock are less productive, lakes create an overabundance of algae blooms, stressing water wildlife, while air conditioning bills soar.

In 2008, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) piloted a 14-month training program for Dakota County snowplow drivers aimed at improving operator effectiveness and reducing the amount of sodium chloride entering nearby lakes and streams. The training program was developed by Connie Fortin of Hamel-based Fortin Consulting, an environmental consulting firm that specializes in water quality projects.

As part of the project, the MPCA turned to Water Resources Center senior researcher Karlyn Eckman, an expert the Knowledge, Attitude and Practices (KAP) study method, to evaluate the effectiveness of the training.

The Water Resources Center will host the annual conference at the St. Paul RiverCentre, October 14 and 15, 2014. Conference goers can expect a variety of new water resource solutions, management techniques, and current research about Minnesota’s water resources. Concurrent sessions throughout the day will offer information on engineering projects, best practices in design and application of water resource management methods, water policy and emerging issues. A morning plenary session begins each day of the conference, and luncheons will also feature a speaker. Topics this year include climate impacts on water resources, invasive common carp, and using LiDAR and spatial analysis.

Although she’s stepped down from the co-directorship of the University of Minnesota’s Water Resources Center (WRC), don’t expect Deb Swackhamer to fade away. She remains a University professor of science technology and environmental policy at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs, a professor of environmental health sciences with the School of Public Health and leaves a legacy of water protection literally, on the books.

When John Bilotta set sail aboard the Nancy Foster on June 17 as part of NOAA’s (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) Teacher at Sea project he was eager to apply his teaching mantra of “see, touch and smell” to his own education. “I spend so much time talking and teaching about the oceans that I was just excited to apply that philosophy to my own learning.”

For fifteen years, DNR MinnAqua supervisor Roland Sigurdson occupied an office cube at the Water Resources Center. A scan of his desk and walls reveals a life in balance. The displays are remarkably focused, reflecting his love of family, friends, fun, education and fishing. His wife Stacey and daughter Natalie beam from multiple photos, there are childhood pictures of Roland and his siblings on the farm, images of Roland the educator before groups of fascinated children, and lots and lots of fish.

In February, the University of Minnesota Tourism Center, in partnership with Explore Minnesota, released the “State of Sustainable Tourism in Minnesota: Changes from 2007 to 2013.” The study surveyed 3,550 Minnesota resort and tourism industry managers, owners and operators on sustainable practices ranging from energy efficiency to water conservation.

With one exception—sweeping large areas—there were no significant improvements by operators in the adoption of six sustainable water practices assessed across years.

While there’s been lot of talk about the health and environmental effects of genetically modified crops, there’s been relatively little attention paid to the environmental effects of glyphosate, a companion chemical that’s now the most widely used herbicide in the world.

Known to urban lawn warriors by its commercial name “Roundup,” glyphosate is routinely applied for weed control on an agricultural scale on genetically modified corn, soybeans, alfalfa, sugar beets, and cotton in the Midwest and elsewhere.

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