Feature Stories

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.

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 Training and Education website is under initial development to inform prospective students in the U.S. of training opportunities in the field of water resources, from government-sponsored short courses to graduate studies.

The Water Resources Center will host the annual Minnesota Water Resources Conference at the St. Paul River Centre, October 15 and 16, 2013. Conference attendees can expect to be presented 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 luncheon will also feature a speaker. Topics this year will touch on water sustainability for future generations, how conservation practices could affect Gulf hypoxia, and the relationship of politics and science in the United States.

Among the scientists, policy makers, and natural resource experts speaking at November’s Preparing Minnesota for Climate Change: A Conference on Climate Adaptation, there’s a paper-pushing, tie-wearing insurance guy who’s become one of Minnesota’s most sought after experts on the costs of climate change.

Over the past few years, Johnson has increasingly been called upon by policy makers and politicians including Senator John Marty and former Senator Ellen Anderson to testify on Minnesota’s alarming insurance rate hikes due to natural disasters.

When Water Resources Center (WRC) co-director Faye Sleeper and LeAnn Buck of the Minnesota Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts (MASWCD) meet regularly for lunch, the conversation often focuses on the importance and challenge of getting UM research into the minds and hands of SWCD officials and staff across Minnesota. “We realized we needed a pathway to get the latest WRC and UM Extension scientific research into application, addressing land and water issues,” said Sleeper. The resulting partnership between UM Extension, WRC and MASWCD will produce three webinars per year. Earlier this year webinar offerings were: Emerging Climate Trends with Mark Seeley, and Emerging Conservation Practices, and Challenges for Agricultural Drainage with Gary Sands. The third presentation with Lee Frelich will air October 2, at 10:00am. Topics for the 2014 webinars are still under consideration.

Five years ago this November, Minnesota voters approved an amendment to the state Constitution to raise the sales tax 3/8ths of one percent and dedicate these resources to four funds: 33% for the Clean Water Fund, 33% for the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Fund, 12.25% to the Parks & Trails Funds, and 19.75 % for the arts and cultural heritage fund. This amendment, known as the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment, has raised approximately $85 M per year for the Clean Water Fund. This fund is then appropriated by the Legislature to supplement programs that address the protection and restoration of the state’s surface and groundwater resources.

One of the first appropriations that the Legislature made was directed to the University of Minnesota’s Water Resources Center (WRC) to prepare a long term plan for sustainable management of the state’s water resources and inform the long term strategy of investment by the Legislature to produce the best outcomes. The Minnesota Water Sustainability Framework was presented to the Legislature in January 2011, and contained a comprehensive, system-based set of recommendations and solutions for the ten biggest issue areas that cut across the environmental, social, and economic domains of sustainability.

The Framework is now approaching its third birthday, and as the state’s citizens evaluate the five-year progress of the Amendment investments, the WRC is assessing the extent to which the recommendations have been considered, adopted, or implemented. This assessment is summarized below. The issues are directly from the Framework.

"We don't want just random acts of conservation," he said. "We want a cumulative effect. ... We need to recognize we aren't necessarily going to get full treatment at each location, but there is a cumulative effect."

Minnesota’s reputation for weather extremes will intensify with climate change, bringing more extreme variation in the drought and flood cycle. And it’s a trend that will have an enormous impact on the state’s water resources management, says climatologist Mark Seeley.