Two questions to diagnose a standing water problem

With heavier rains, water may pool around buildings and cause serious damage. Ask yourself the two things to zero in on how to address the problem.

Posted on May 23, 2016 by Monica Day, Michigan State University Extension

Water can wreak havoc when there’s too much in the wrong places and getting it away from structures quickly is essential to protecting the value of your property. What follows is a simple guide developed by Michigan State University Extension to solving common problems with water around buildings.

Approach your drainage problem by asking: 1) Where is the water coming from? 2) Where is the water going to?

During a rainstorm, go to the spot with the problem puddle. Look to see where the water is coming from. Is it rolling off the roof in sheets? You may have clogged (or missing) gutters. Is it rolling off of a driveway or other flat, hard surface? Areas that don’t allow the water to soak into the ground means that after a lot of rain, too much water will collect on the ground that can’t drain it fast enough.

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Second, walk around the puddle while it is raining see where it is flowing to. If it is not going anywhere, you might need to wait for a heavier rain to see where it goes to, or it might simply be pooling and not draining off at all. For example, maybe your water is backing up because of a storm drain, tile, ditch or culvert that is clogged or broken. If standing water is not a sudden problem, it may be inadequate drainage to begin with.

If cleaning the gutters or clearing a clog won’t solve the problem, you will be looking at an investment in a drainage structure to protect your property. Water is one of the most destructive elements to buildings because decay occurs much faster where water is present. In addition to property damage, mold and mosquitoes, which both proliferate around water can cause health problems too.

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Many popular drainage solutions add interest, beauty while at the same time doing something good for water resources. While protecting your structure you can also prepare for future water needs in the face of uncertainty. Whether the summer brings drought, heat or floods, rain barrels, rain gardens, cisterns, and bioswales, are practical options. Rain barrels and cisterns capture fresh water from roofs for later use for activities like washing vehicles, driveways or irrigating. Rain gardens and bioswales add beauty and attract beneficial wildlife with native plants while also giving water a place to settle and drain.

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For significant amounts of water constructed wetlands or detention ponds may fit your needs. With increasing intensity of rainfall events and the concerns with maintaining freshwater quality, if a property improvement project is in on property maintenance list now is a great time to invest in a little extra for lasting benefits for everyone. Visit Michigan State University to see demonstrations of sustainable stormwater management practices in person.

This article was published by Michigan State University Extension. For more information, visit To have a digest of information delivered straight to your email inbox, visit To contact an expert in your area, visit, or call 888-MSUE4MI (888-678-3464).

Illinois River water quality improvement linked to more efficient corn production


News Source: Greg McIsaac, 217-714-1835
News Writer: Debra Levey Larson, 217-244-2880

View Article Here

Illinois River at Valley City_1

Photo Credit: The University of Illinois

  • In a new study, nitrate concentrations and loads in the Illinois River from 1983 to 2014 were correlated with agricultural nitrogen use efficiency and nitrate discharged from Chicago’s treated wastewater.
  • The amount of nitrate that flowed down the river each year from 2010 to 2014 was 10 percent less than the average amount during a baseline period of 1980 to 1996.
  • This reduction is a positive step toward the ultimate goal to reduce nitrate concentrations by 45 percent.

URBANA, Ill. – Good news – the quality of water in the Illinois River has improved in one important aspect. A new study from the University of Illinois reports that nitrate load in the Illinois River from 2010 to 2014 was 10 percent less than the average load in the 1980s and early 1990s.

Reducing the nitrate and phosphorus loads in the Mississippi River by 45 percent is the US EPA’s ultimate recommendation. This will serve to reduce the size of the seasonal hypoxic area, or “dead zone,” created in the Gulf of Mexico when nitrate in tributaries like the Illinois River flows into the Mississippi River and down to the Gulf. Illinois has developed strategies to achieve these reductions described in the Illinois Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy. Other Midwestern states have developed similar strategies.

“The recent reduction in nitrate load in the Illinois River is a promising sign,” says Greg McIsaac, U of I researcher and lead author of the study. The study was completed last October, before data for 2015 were available. “Now that these data are available, we know that the Illinois River nitrate load from 2011 to 2015 was 15 percent lower than the load measured in the baseline period from 1980 to 1996. This 15 percent reduction is a milestone that the state hoped to achieve for all its rivers by 2025,” he says.

In addition to examining trends in nitrate loads and concentrations in the Illinois River from 1976 to 2014, the authors tried to identify reasons for changes in loads and concentrations. One possible source of change considered was nitrate in treated wastewater discharged into the Illinois River by the Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago from 1983 to 2014. The authors also used annual records of fertilizer sales, livestock numbers, and crop yields to calculate residual agricultural nitrogen for each year—that is, the nitrogen made available to crops in fertilizer, manure, and biological fixation, but not absorbed by the crop or harvested in the grain.

“A significant portion of this residual nitrogen is left in the soil as nitrate and can be washed into the river, primarily through groundwater and subsurface drainage tiles in agricultural fields,” McIsaac says.

Mark David, U of I biogeochemist and co-author of the study, says the residual agricultural nitrogen was highest in the late 1980s, following a major drought and low corn yields in 1988.

“Beginning around 1990, the residual agricultural nitrogen began to decline, most likely due to improved fertilizer management and higher corn yields. Since 1980, the amount of nitrogen fertilizer sold in the watershed remained relatively constant, but corn yields increased by about 50 percent,” David says. “This means that more of the nitrogen fertilizer applied was taken up by the corn and harvested in the grain and less was left in the soil or washed down the river.”

From their analysis of the data, the team found that annual nitrate loads were significantly correlated with river flow, nitrate discharged in Chicago wastewater and residual agricultural nitrogen averaged over a six year window. Nitrate concentrations – the average weight of nitrate in a typical gallon of river water – were also correlated with residual agricultural nitrogen and nitrate discharge from Chicago, but not river flow.

Another one of the study’s co-authors, U of I biostatistician George Gertner, is cautious about the findings. “Although the correlations we found are statistically significant, they are not definitive proof that the reductions in residual agricultural nitrogen or nitrate discharge from Chicago caused changes in nitrate concentrations or loads in the river. The results are, however, strongly suggestive of the connections.”

Nitrate loads are strongly influenced by precipitation and river flow which can be highly erratic. “It is promising that nitrate loads have declined in recent years despite higher than average river flows. The five-year average river flow from 2007 to 2011 was the highest recorded since the start of measurement in 1939,” McIsaac says.

Nitrate concentrations, on the other hand, have declined more consistently since about 1990, which was a period of high concentrations. The reason for the divergence between nitrate concentration and load, explains McIsaac, is that the load is the product of both concentration and river flow and the flow is strongly influenced by precipitation, while concentrations are not. Higher flows allow the river to carry more pounds of nitrate, but it doesn’t necessarily change the concentrations.

Whether nitrate concentrations and loads continue to decline in the future depends on several factors, according to the researchers. “If the annual river flows return to their 1976-2005 average values, and if nitrogen fertilizer efficiency remains high or continues to improve, there likely will be a decline in nitrate loads in the Illinois River,” David explains. “On the other hand, if river flows remain high, which may be a consequence of climate change, meeting the nitrate reduction goals will likely require more conservation effort than originally proposed.”

The study, “Illinois River nitrate-nitrogen concentrations and loads: Long-term variation and association with watershed nitrogen inputs,” written by Gregory F. McIsaac, Mark B. David, and George Z. Gertner, is published in the Journal of Environmental Quality and available through open access at

Data used in the study was provided by the US Geological Survey and the US Department of Agriculture. Partial funding was provided by the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency and National Institute of Food and Agriculture, USDA, under Agreement No. 2011-039568-31127.


US Forest Service seeks project proposals for $3.7 million to protect the Great Lakes

Funds for tree planting and clean water are available for projects in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, and Wisconsin. Proposals due June 21.

The U.S. Forest Service announced today (April 22) the availability of $3.7 million to support competitive projects in the Great Lakes watershed. Originating through an agreement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the funds will support successful projects that address invasive species, nonpoint source pollution impacts on nearshore health, and habitat restoration activities that impact water quality in priority watersheds within the Great Lakes basin.

These funds will help communities to mitigate the loss of trees to the emerald ash borer and to filter and slow rain water runoff and associated nutrients and sediments from polluting the lakes. Projects proposals are sought in the following program areas.

· Restore tree canopy lost to infestation by emerald ash borer

· Create or improve green infrastructure through the planting of trees and other vegetation as part of a local management strategy to maintain and enhance urban watersheds

· Restore the structure and function of coastal wetlands and lake-affected riparian areas through planting of native trees and diverse vegetation

For more information, interested applicants can visit the Forest Service website at, or visit The Funding Opportunity Number is: USDA-FS-2016-GLRI

2016 Spring Conference Recap


By: Rebecca Power

Across the North Central Region, conference season has peaked and is now quieting down as the field season moves northward. The North Central Region Water Network is following suit, having completed our second conference as of March 23. You can see and listen to conference plenary presentations on our website. Our University of Nebraska-Lincoln hosts provided inspirational examples of how universities organize for impact, providing science and education that will help ensure sustainable water supplies for agriculture, communities, and ecosystems that supply diverse and valuable services.

Network participants attending the conference organized and participated in break-out sessions on climate change, irrigation, nutrient and manure management, stormwater management, watershed leadership, youth water literacy and stewardship, volunteer stream monitoring and several other topics. Look for more information and useful products from these groups as they continue to grow and develop. You can stay up to date by checking the Network Initiatives section of our website or by contacting initiative leaders listed on their respective web pages.

As valuable as these conversations with our colleagues are, seeing and experiencing the agricultural and natural resources we are researching and teaching about is critical to our success. One of learning opportunities we enjoyed while in Nebraska is the breathtaking sandhill crane migration along Nebraska’s Platte River valley. Over 80% of the world’s population of sandhill cranes pause on their journey north to rest and refuel and “conference” loudly with one another. Not much different than our conference really – just better scenery!

Thanks also to the many University of Nebraska-Lincoln faculty, educators, and partners that made our trip stand out. You are clearly on the forefront of integrating food, water, and energy systems for a resilient and abundant future.


Climate Resources for Extension Webinar: North Central ANR Academy

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Final ANR Academy webinar on Climate Resources for Extension, Friday, April 22, 1:00 p.m. EDT / Noon CDT. You can join by clicking on

Precision Conservation Research & Design Forum, Pre-Workshop Webinar Series

Multi-LCC Mississippi River Basin / Gulf Hypoxia Initiative (MRB/GHI)

Precision Conservation Research & Design Forum

Noon Tues – Noon Thurs, March 1-3, Indianapolis, IN


Everyone is welcome to attend the webinars, regardless of whether you will be able to participate in the R&D Forum in Indy. Webinars will be Thursdays, Jan 21-Feb 18 at 3pmET and Friday Feb 26 at 10amET.

These sessions are not mandatory but would help prepare participants for the workshop. Join us for as many as interest you and fit your schedule. Anyone is welcome to attend the webinars and participate in the R&D Forum online. Feel free to distribute this list to others who may be interested.

Connect at the scheduled time with this URL and phone number:

Webex –

Audio – Dial 866-714-8353; Participant code 43553755#

Draft Presentation Schedule

Thursday, Jan 21 @ 3:00 PM EST

Glen Salmon and Gwen White – multi-LCC Mississippi/Gulf Hypoxia Iniatiative Overview
John Tirpak – Stitching it all together: Integrating Science and Management

Thursday, Jan 28 @ 3:00 PM EST

Jorgen Rose – MRB/GHI Practice Sheets: status and development
Lisa Schulte Moore – Prairie STRIPS

Thursday, Feb 4th @ 3:00 PM EST

Ryan Drum – Performance metrics, surrogate species, and monarch landscape design
Scott Lucas – Pollinator strategy for the Ohio DOT

Thursday, Feb 11 @ 3:00 PM EST

Shannon Zezula – Soil health and cover crops as drivers for wildlife and water quality
Meghna Babbar-Sebens – Watershed modeling tools

Thursday, Feb 18 @ 3:00 PM EST

Michael Schwartz – MRB/GHI online spatial analysis: data development and delivery

Friday, Feb 26 @ 10:00 AM EST*

Bill Richardson – Maquoketa floodplain habitat nutrient removal monitoring
Dan Lambert – Midwest grassland bird conservation opportunities
* Note the time and date difference for this last webinar presentation

For more information about the Mississippi/Gulf Hypoxia R&D Forum, March 1-3 in Indy, contact Gwen White at or go to —


Happy holidays

In a week or so, I will be headed south for a short winter break – crossing the Mighty Mississippi at St. Louis, skirting the Ozarks, and landing on the Gulf Coast at Padre Island National Seashore. There will be familiar faces there – widgeon, teal, sandhill cranes, house wrens, and other birds that know better than to brave a Wisconsin winter – even in a warmer-than-average El Niño year! How fortunate I feel to be able to follow the smallest of sparrows and one of our nation’s most important natural arteries to a new place, with new sights, sounds, and stories to enrich life at home.

However, before I leave the snow flurries behind, I get to take stock of the year through annual reporting. Annual reporting is not high on my list of holiday cravings (okay, it’s not on the list at all). However, it is a time for reflection, time to take stock of what the North Central Region Water Network and our partners have accomplished in 2015. Reviewing the calendar and reports from each completed project reminds me how much I have much to be thankful for, even if my kayak never touches the salty Laguna Madre. There’s too much to list here, so I’ll just refer you to the Network’s Initiatives, Resources, and Webinars pages for more information.

I also encourage you to read Dan Devlin’s Kansas State University highlight in this newsletter. The Kansas State Extension Watershed Specialist program is one of many examples of how Extension takes a systems approach to complex problems like water, providing everything from one-on-one education to water quality monitoring to assistance with BMP implementation, to documenting pollution reductions. K-State specialists and educators collaborate with Kansas Department of Health and Environment, agricultural groups, and farmers to get the job done. In true John Dewey fashion, research and education are tools for individual and public good. They are employed purposefully by talented and committed people to make the world a better place.

So as 2015 comes to a close, thanks to all of you who are giving so much for your communities and the water resources on which they depend. Happy holidays and warmest wishes for the new year.

P.S. What are you thankful for in 2015? Tell us here!

Important Item:

Save the Date! The North Central Region Water Network’s second conference and regional working session will be March 21-23, 2016 in Lincoln, NE. Theme: “From Science to Success.” More details coming here!

Rebecca Power, Network Director

The Power of People

citizenvolmonComputers are awe-inspiring devices that enable us to identify an unknown weed or find the best nearby place to have dinner in seconds. Computers can do complicated calculations quickly and accurately. What they cannot do however, is tell us what questions are worth asking and how much time and treasure we should put into answering them.

This week I am attending the first Midwest Climate and Agriculture Workshop. The workshop is organized and/or sponsored by the Midwest Regional Climate Center, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, US Department of Agriculture, the National Integrated Drought Information System, and the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research.

The value of this workshop is that it brings together climate scientists, soil scientists, agronomists, Extension specialists and educators, risk managers and others. Our hosts asked us to share climate-related questions pertaining to our work . Michigan State University Extension educator Mark Longstroth asked several detailed questions clearly demonstrating hand-in-glove relationship between fruit production, weather, and climate. His questions dealt with small changes in wind speed and direction that affect the distribution/drift of different pesticides; changes in wind speed and dew point that affect frost damage to crops; and of course, changes in precipitation timing, form, and quantity in the short- and long-term.

Extension educators like Mark can integrate a large amount of information quickly and in ways that are most useful to farmers, agricultural advisors, and other “end-users” of science. Similarly, they can present the needs of farmers so that scientists and agencies can apply their skills in ways that are most likely to get incorporated into farmer decision-making.

While we need computer models and decision support tools to help us make sense of the massive amount of information available to us, we still need talented, experienced people to help us understand the right questions and put that information into a human context. Particularly with complex and sometimes contentious conversations about agriculture and climate, it’s great to see that the power of Extension educators and specialists is being tapped to translate science to success.


Rebecca Power

Iowa Learning Farms August 19 webinar: the full potential of cover crops


Ames, Iowa—The regular monthly Iowa Learning Farms webinar for August will be on Wednesday, Aug. 19, at 1 p.m. This month’s guest speaker is Tom Kaspar who will present “Reaching the Full Potential of Cover Crops in Iowa.”

Although cover crops have been around a long time, we don’t have much experience on their use in modern corn-soybean rotations in Iowa. We do, however, understand the general principles of how winter cover crops improve soil health and reduce losses of sediment, nutrients, and organic matter from corn and soybean fields.  Today, we have barely scratched the surface of the potential benefits that cover crops might provide. Only continued long-term research and farmer trials will allow us to reach the full potential of cover crops. Log in to the webinar to hear Kaspar’s perspective of this timely topic.

Tom Kaspar is a plant physiologist at the USDA-ARS National Laboratory for Agriculture and the Environment in Ames, and has been with ARS since 1981. Over his career, his research has focused on crop and soil management to improve water quality and soil productivity. Since 1990, he has worked on the benefits and management of winter rye as a cover crop in corn and soybean rotations in Iowa.

The ILF webinars are held on the third Wednesday of each month at 1 p.m. They are free and all that is needed to participate is a computer with Internet access. To participate, go to: at 1 p.m. on the afternoon of the webinar and log in through the guest option. Webinar attendees will be able to converse with Kaspar by typing their questions through the chat function. The ILF webinars are recorded and archived on the ILF website for viewing at any time:

Since January 2011, ILF has hosted a webinar every month. There are over 55 webinars to view on a wide range of topics including soil erosion, cover crops, buffers, bioreactors, and farmer perspectives. The webinar archives are also available in podcast through iTunes.

Established in 2004, Iowa Learning Farms is building a Culture of Conservation, encouraging adoption of conservation practices. Farmers, researchers and ILF team members are working together to identify and implement the best management practices that improve water quality and soil health while remaining profitable. Partners of Iowa Learning Farms are the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, Iowa Natural Resources Conservation Service and Iowa Department of Natural Resources (USEPA section 319), Conserva­tion Districts of Iowa, Iowa Farm Bureau, Iowa Water Center and Practical Farmers of Iowa. For more information about Iowa Learning Farms, visit the website:

From Science to Success – An Introduction

By: Rebecca Power
The Morrill Act of 1862 established land-grant institutions of higher education in the United States. The purpose of these institutions was and is, “without excluding other scientific and classical studies, and including military tactics, to teach such branches of learning as are related to agriculture and the mechanic arts, in such manner as the legislatures of the States may respectively prescribe, in order to promote the liberal and practical education of the industrial classes in the several pursuits and professions in life.” The Smith-Lever Act of 1914 established cooperative extension services as mechanisms to expand access to the resources of the land-grants even further.

Many scholars have established that the intent of those behind the land-grant movement was to improve the quality of life for working class citizens in rural America, largely related to the professions of farming and homemaking as well as becoming more informed and engaged participants in our young democracy. The science generated at the time was rarely an end unto itself. It helped people grow more corn, cotton, and cattle and keep sufficient and safe food on the table.

Land-grant institutions continue to carry this mission forward. However, new knowledge is generated at head-spinning speed, making it harder to keep up with the job of translating science to practice.  This challenge is not unique to water resource management.  An article published in the journal Nature in 2008 about the “valley of death” that exists between biomedical research and medical treatments for patients is still relevant in medicine, and it is certainly relevant for many aspects of water resource management.

The North Central Region Water Network’s spring conference (March 21-23, 2016) will provide some compelling food for thought on this topic, as well as time for us to work together on ways to move from science to success on high priority water-related topics such as stormwater management, climate change, irrigation management, drainage water management, and science and civic engagement for youth.

A recently published paper by Michael Dahlstrom (Greenlee School of Journalism at Iowa State University) in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences sheds light on one facet of the science to success conversation. He helps us consider how scientists and educators can effectively and ethically incorporate narratives and storytelling into our communication and educational programs.

Dahlstrom’s piece is just a taste of the ideas that can help us continue to fulfill the promise of the land-grant mission by translating science for those that can benefit from it.  Have your own ideas or resources? Please post them in the comments section of this article on our Network blog.

And two other important items:
  • For all you Extension folks out there, remember that the North Central Region Water Network’s second 2015 Request for Applications is waiting for you! $100,000 in seed funding available. Applications due August 14, 2015!
  • SAVE THE DATE! The North Central Region Water Network’s second conference and regional working session will be March 21-23, 2016 in Lincoln, NE.  Theme: “From Science To Success. More details coming soon!


Rebecca Power, Network Director