Spring 2016 Director's Corner

My first year in this job is erasing any doubts I might have had about the prominence of water issues in Minnesota.jeff photo

Registration for the Governor’s Water Summit was open for less than two days before filling to its capacity. Those who attended in person gathered in numerous small group conversations on an array of major water resource issues.  I heard dialogue that was both engaging and constructive. What impressed me was the number of people in the state who are well informed and passionate, yet willing to hear a variety of perspectives. These are the right ingredients for an inclusive solutions-oriented discussion, which continues online.

About a month before the Governor’s summit, the Climate Change Adaptation Conference also attracted a capacity crowd and a great deal of media attention. Mayors, industry leaders, and other experts spoke of a heightened focus on the links between water resources and our changing climate. More frequent and severe precipitation events disrupt business operations and damage infrastructure, while droughts increase water demand and add risks to ingredient supply chains in the food sector. In this issue of the Minnegram, you’ll find a feature story on the conference and a repost of Paul Huttner’s notes on the conference from the Minnesota Public Radio blog. Minnesota’s climate adaptation efforts will be on even wider display in the coming year as the National Adaptation Forum has selected St. Paul as their 2017 meeting location.

Here on the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities campus, a strategic planning process has been underway to identify Grand Challenges Research priorities -- pressing societal issues that the university is uniquely positioned to address. After months of deliberations involving several faculty-led forums, ensuring clean water and sustainable ecosystems was identified as one of five priorities. The university’s public commitment to this topic will lead to campuswide initiatives to build on institutional strengths and further develop partnerships to address water resource challenges.The Water Resources Center is sure to play a key role in future initiatives. Our annual grant competition helped foster the strong base of water research, investing seed funds to launch new projects for decades. We are pleased to announce three new grantees for the current competition in this issue of the Minnegram. Our co-sponsored Minnesota Water Resources Conference has become an annual marquee event convening the academic, government, private, and nonprofit sectors to discuss solutions for water resources.  Plans for this year’s conference are already taking shape -- the Call for Abstracts is out with a deadline of May 6.We also have been pleased to work in lasting partnership with many entities within the University of Minnesota system. One such partner that I’d like to highlight this year is Minnesota Sea Grant, part of a national network of centers across the nation focusing on coastal and Great Lakes issues. The national Sea Grant program is celebrating its 50th Anniversary this year and its origins can be traced to ideas first advanced right here in Minnesota. Minnesota Sea Grant entered a new era this year, welcoming John Downing as their new director. We’re glad to have John spend some time in our WRC offices when he comes to the Twin Cities.

Many observers have noted that we have entered a pivotal time in water resource management. Various long term stressors, including climate change, population growth, economic development, and land use change, have combined to push us to or near a crisis point in many dimensions.  The way we address, or fail to address, these problems will have profound impacts on future generations.  While the challenges are great, so too is the opportunity to shape the future. Challenging times are exciting times.