Winter 2021 Director's Corner


It is hard to believe that we are coming up on a year of working in the midst of a global pandemic. While there are warmer months on the horizon and vaccines being distributed, we are all still challenged each day by one of the smallest organisms on the planet. Despite these hurdles, our colleagues and partners continue to develop creative solutions that support the WRC mission to “advance the science of clean water for all Minnesotans through innovation, workforce development, and knowledge exchange.” 

The inability to safely gather in large groups has not prevented conferences from providing valuable information through new online formats. The 2020 Minnesota Water Resources Conference drew over 800 attendees to its keynote speakers, concurrent sessions, and virtual posters. Former WRC Co-director and Professor Emerita Deb Swackhamer received the Dave Ford award for her support of water science and management, and keynote speakers from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the WRC’s Onsite Sewage Treatment Program anchored each morning.

In January, the WRC and Minnesota Climate Adaptation Partnership held a half-day climate adaptation conference that featured a keynote presentation from Sam Grant, Executive Director of MN350. Sam’s remarks focused on the challenges of “adaptation apartheid,” a vital lens for tackling the connected challenges of climate change and systemic racism. A panel of climate leaders from across Minnesota and the Midwest share their perspectives on adaptation, and Mark Seeley presented the 2021 Minnesota Climate Adaptation Awards. These activities will continue through a monthly webinar series on climate adaptation

Beyond conferences, our staff and partners have continued to develop a range of online education opportunities and new resources. Anne Nelson highlights an online course for local government and natural resource managers and short animated videos on the basics of groundwater. John Billota showcases a new coast model of the Watershed Game, designed to  help communities address water quality and build resilience to flooding.

Finally, and most importantly, we can only do this work through our talented and [hard working] staff, and there are two new members of the WRC community that have joined us in the last year. Starting a new position can be difficult enough as it is, without a pandemic added to the challenges. Despite this, Taylor Becker and Anne Sawyer have jumped into the deep end. (I hope to never run out of water-related puns.) 

Supported by a grant from the MInnesota Department of Agriculture, Taylor is helping farmers and communities in the Central Sands region understand how to improve agricultural water and nutrient management and reduce nitrates in groundwater. Anne Sawyer has joined us from the UMN horticulture Extension team and will be developing educational programs focused on watershed management throughout the state.

Reflecting on the work over the last year, I continue to be grateful to work with passionate, creative, and driven people and partners, and also am looking forward to the day when we can gather in person to learn on our water challenges and opportunities.