Water is a hot topic in the Town of New Hope, Wisconsin. Those of you that work and live in small communities across the Midwest would recognize the people and the stories as similar to your own. There are farmers, teachers, nurses, mechanics, restaurant owners, bakers, artists, retired folks that own property on the lakes – the mix of people and ideas that make rural communities great. Most of the residents of New Hope Township get their water from private wells. They swim in the lakes and fish for brook trout in the Tomorrow River. They have never had conflicts over water use or quality – until now.
I had the privilege of helping facilitate a recent meeting in New Hope Township. The purpose of the meeting was to bring neighbors together to discuss concerns about water use and quality, and how farming is impacting both surface and ground water.
In every meeting like this that I’ve been in, to a person, there is agreement that we want both profitable, vibrant agriculture and clean water where we live. This meeting was no exception. However, over half the room (the non-farmers) had never heard of a nutrient management plan. They knew very little about the nuts and bolts of managing a dairy farm or producing corn – not surprising since less than 2% of the U.S. population are farming or ranching families. It was easy to see how neighbors could find themselves talking past one another and sitting in County Board meetings on opposite sides of an issue, even though their goals were the same.
As you can imagine, one conversation did not solve the water issues New Hope residents are facing. However, people were in the same room talking with each other, rather than about each other. They were listening respectfully, asking good questions, and learning from their neighbors. They found some common ground, like the need for more consistent and comprehensive testing of drinking and surface water.
In a time when people with the best intentions are so often talking past one another, I was heartened to see them doing the tough job that we all have as citizens – coming together as neighbors to take care of the small patch of ground that we have responsibility for during our short time on this planet.
I know it’s happening in communities across the North Central Region, and would love to hear more of these kinds of stories. If you have one to share, please send it to us and we’ll post some of them in our Network blog.
If you would like to contribute ideas for the future of the North Central Region Water Network, feel free to send me a note at email@example.com .
Rebecca Power, Network Director
URBANA, Ill. – Fig buttercup may have an innocent-sounding name, but it is anything but sweet. The small yellow flowering plant creeps across forest floors, crowding out native spring ephemerals and other understory plants. Try to pull it out, and you are more likely than not to leave its fleshy tubers in the soil, where they lie in wait for the right moment to resprout. And now, fig buttercup is in Illinois.
Chris Evans, forestry extension and research specialist with University of Illinois Extension, says that fig buttercup and another aggressive understory invader, Japanese chaff flower, are looking like the next big threats to Illinois forests. They join common buckthorn, bush honeysuckle, Japanese stiltgrass, and garlic mustard as the state’s top plant pests.
Evans and Eric Larson, assistant professor in the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences at U of I, recently answered questions in a public Twitter chat and podcast about the threat of invasive species in Illinois. They stressed that being non-native is not enough to render a species invasive – it needs to cause some sort of harm to the environment or community it inhabits. Unfortunately, there are plenty of examples of harmful invaders in the state, in nearly every habitat type.
Larson’s research focuses on invaders of freshwater ecosystems. He ranks silver and bighead carp, zebra mussels, and Asian clams as the top freshwater invaders in Illinois. He’s keeping his eye on emerging threats, too, using modern molecular methods and predictive models to anticipate where new species could get a foothold in the Great Lakes. For example, in a recent study, Larson proved that hidden invaders such as rusty crayfish could be detected from bits of their DNA floating in lake water samples.
Many small, less-obvious organisms also threaten natural resources. “Some of our worst invaders are insects and pathogens that have completely removed foundational tree species. For example, emerald ash borer is in the process of completely removing ash trees from our ecosystems in Illinois,” Evans says.
Invasive species do not just make life harder for native plants and wildlife; they are expensive to control. Evans says the costs to control forest invaders range from $100 to $1,000 per acre, depending on the species, the degree of infestation, and the surrounding environment.
“The most cost effective thing we can do is prevent new invasions from happening, and try to contain the spread of invaders,” Larson says. “In fresh waters, that means being really conscientious about cleaning, draining, and drying your fishing gear and boats before you move between waters, and not releasing live bait in the water. These steps are going to protect our waters, our ecosystems, and save costs down the road from trying to manage these species.”
Evans adds, “Most people now understand the concept of invasive species. What they choose to put in their homes and landscaping has an impact. Everybody has a role to play.”
For more information, listen to the podcast with Larson and Evans at https://soundcloud.com/aces-illinois/invasive-species.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
USDA-Funded Fellowship Enables Regional/State Water Experts to Incorporate Systems Thinking in Education, Outreach, and Extension.
Ithaca, N.Y. March 27, 2017
ThinkWater is excited to announce the selection of ten leaders in water education, outreach, and extension to be ThinkWater Fellows for 2017-18. The ThinkWater fellowship builds a cohort of scholars and professionals engaged with water-related issues and teaches them systems thinking for application to their ongoing professional work. While the first cohort of ThinkWater fellows were advanced scholars and faculty conducting water-related research, fellows from the second cohort work in positions that allow them to integrate systems thinking into program design, education, and outreach involving a broad range of audiences, such as farmers, community members, volunteers, and youth.
The fellowship committee received many outstanding applications from candidates across the country doing important work in the water arena. The following ten were ultimately selected:
Dr. Laura Cabrera expressed excitement at the caliber of applications this year and the diversity, professional experience, and professional reach of the 10 fellows selected. “Water is such a critical issue, so we’re delighted to have representation from critical geographic regions, individuals who work with youth, adults, volunteers, businesses and not-for-profit organizations, those involved in direct and indirect service, with a number of them having received large grants to run complex projects related to a whole range of water issues.”
Fellows will learn a proven method for teaching the universal rules underlying systems thinking approaches and methods that is suitable for all ages and populations from Drs. Derek and Laura Cabrera, faculty at Cornell University and founders of Cabrera Research Lab. While learning and applying systems thinking, the fellows will be participating in a research study to determine the utility of the relatively brief but intensive systems thinking training for education, extension, and outreach activities around complex water-related issues.
Fellows will develop and implement a comprehensive plan to integrate systems thinking into their water education, extension and outreach work in the geographic area they serve. The 2016-17 fellowship involves professionals from around the country, so much of the training, consultation, and interaction will occur online, with the exception of the annual, live-streaming systems thinking conference at Cornell University in early December. Fellows will make brief TED-style presentation on their strategies for implementing systems thinking in their ongoing water-related projects and discuss early insights about implementation in their geographic regions.
Dr. Derek Cabrera expressed enthusiasm at the opportunity to work with a new cohort of ThinkWater fellows. “Our involvement with last year’s cohort was incredibly rewarding. Not only did we advance the work of researchers with truly diverse interests and methods for approaching complex water problems, we provided a venue for these scholars–and other experts applying systems thinking–to present at a live-streaming event that attracted 700 participants from 31 states and 39 different countries.
ThinkWater is a national campaign supported by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and led by the University of Wisconsin-Extension and Cabrera Research Lab to help people of all backgrounds and ages think and care deeply about water. It does so by applying systems thinking to existing water education and research efforts and by actively engaging people in a new way around water issues. Our mission-vision is to Engage, Educate and Empower 7 billion systems thinkers to solve wicked water problems.
Date: March 29, 2017
Source: Eric Larson, 217-300-3197, firstname.lastname@example.org
News writer: Debra Levey Larson, 217-244-2880, email@example.com
URBANA, Ill. – What makes a stream or river healthy? In the years following the growth of the environmental movement in the United States and passage of the Clean Water Act, researchers and managers struggled with this question of just how to measure the condition of our waters.
One prominent answer came from the University of Illinois, where alumnus and faculty member James R. Karr proposed the idea of an “index of biotic integrity” (or IBI) in 1981. Karr’s central solution to the question of measuring river health was to use the organisms that live in freshwaters to tell us about their condition – a concept that has subsequently been widely adopted in the United States to evaluate and enforce Clean Water Act compliance, as well as similar management goals internationally.
Karr’s first IBI used fish communities of the Midwest to determine the condition of rivers on a gradient from the highly impaired or even fishless, like parts of the Chicago River at the time, to more healthy rivers with intact native fish communities, such as the Embarras River south of Champaign-Urbana. Yet over time, the IBI method has evolved to include a suite of additional freshwater organisms, from algae to insects, that can help us understand if rivers and streams are receiving too many nutrients, too much sediment, or are experiencing modifications to their flow or temperature regimes beyond the range that their organisms can tolerate. The IBI concept even jumped to marine and terrestrial ecosystems, where managers and scientists have sought to use vegetation or bird communities to tell us about the condition of land and water. Karr’s publications proposing and developing the IBI remain among the most influential papers ever published in the fields of fisheries and freshwater biology, continuing to be cited by researchers and influence policy and management every year.
In recognition of his contributions to aquatic biology and environmental management, a new James R. Karr Lecture in Aquatic Biology will kick off on Friday, April 14 with an inaugural address from its namesake. Co-sponsored by the University of Illinois Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences in the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences and the Illinois Natural History Survey within the Prairie Research Institute, this lecture series will seek to bring a prominent scientist to campus every year to interact with faculty, staff, and students, and give a public lecture in the spirit of Karr’s efforts to conduct integrative science in the service of environmental issues and aquatic biology.
The lecture will begin at 3 p.m. on Friday, April 14 in the Monsanto Room of the College of ACES library at 1101 South Goodwin Avenue, Urbana.
“Clean water is not enough to ensure healthy rivers” is the title of Karr’s April 14 lecture.
About his talk, Karr says “For most of the twentieth century, water managers remained largely unaware of the collapse of aquatic ecosystems. They saw water narrowly, as a fluid to be consumed or used as a raw material in agriculture or industry. The 1972 Clean Water Act call to ‘restore and maintain the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the Nation’s waters’ did not halt the declines. Efforts to protect water resources emphasized control of chemical contaminants; preserving aquatic life was not the intent.”
According to Karr, development of the index of biotic integrity provided a more integrative approach to measuring the biological status of streams. In addition, framing the ways people alter aquatic communities in terms of water quality, flow regime, physical habitat structure, energy source, and biotic interactions opened the door to a better understanding of the causes of water resource declines.
“IBI and what I call the five-factor model explicitly recognize the many connections between aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems and show that protecting chemical water quality alone is not enough to conserve or rehabilitate life in streams. Direct biological monitoring and assessment furnish a mechanism to directly assess the condition of water bodies, diagnose the causes of degradation, define actions to attain conservation and restoration goals, and evaluate the effectiveness of management decisions. These tools are now used by water managers throughout the world in diverse aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems. But society is still short on agency and political leadership needed to protect and restore living systems.”
Karr’s cosmopolitan career included far more than just developing the IBI concept. Following his Ph.D. in ecology from the University of Illinois, he worked as a professor at Purdue University, Virginia Tech, the University of Washington, and his alma mater from 1975 to 1984. He also served as deputy director of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama during the 1980s. His broad interests outside of freshwater biology include ornithology, tropical forest ecology, and environmental policy. He published highly influential papers on the community ecology of birds and their forests in both the tropics and Illinois, and trained a generation of successful scientists. He is a fellow in the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and received major career achievement awards from the American Fisheries Society and Society for Freshwater Science.
Kurt Faush, a professor in fisheries at Colorado State University who worked with Karr at the University of Illinois as a post-doctoral researcher, says “Jim Karr is a unique scientist, whose interests range from testing theories in community ecology to applying ecological principles to solve watershed management problems. He was a supportive and inspiring mentor to those of us privileged to work with him. He encouraged us to think big, and by his own example showed us how a scientist could work beyond the boundaries of science and outside their comfort zone to make a real difference.”
One of Karr’s former U of I doctoral students, Paul Angermeier, who is currently the assistant leader of the United States Geological Survey Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit at Virginia Tech says, “Jim has for several decades been a tireless advocate for applying sound science to environmental issues. His approach to these issues is consistently integrative, innovative, and synthetic. Remarkably, he is equally capable of seeing the biological world through the eyes of birds, fishes, insects, and corals. His thinking and analysis goes well beyond ecology to explore how knowledge from disciplines such as anthropology, economics, law, medicine, and political science figure into solving today’s wickedly complex environmental problems. Jim was doing ‘sustainability science’ decades before it was labeled as such.”
The James R. Karr Lecture in Aquatic Biology is free and open to the public.
Manure. One stage in a rich, life-giving cycle from sun, soil, and water, to plant, to animal, to kitchen table, and back to the soil again. Sometimes we call manure animal waste. This term signifies a break in the natural cycle, a break in our thinking about it, or both. Thinking of manure as waste rather than a critical contributor to soil replenishment is costly for food production, soil productivity, and the quality of our water.*
We have a similar break in the way we think about and use water. Whether it’s the chemicals we use to clean our homes; the stormwater running off our streets full of oil, grease, and salt from winter road-clearing; or the overabundance of nitrogen and phosporus coming from our sewage treatment plants and farm fields, we move it down stream. Out of sight, out of mind.
March 22 is World Water Day. This year’s theme is “Water and Wastewater”. Let’s think about the term wastewater for a minute. If you’re reading this, you’re already well-versed in the water cycle. You know the water you drink was at some point the animal waste of a Tyrannosaurus or Velociraptor. If you live in a community that draws its water from a river – the Ohio, the Mississippi, and others – you are probably aware that someone else’s wastewater is your drinking water.
Wastewater. I know there are talented, insightful professionals that use this term all the time. I respectfully suggest that we ought to stop. This message is the essence of the World Water Day theme. Perhaps if we stopped calling our water waste, we would start treating it as if none of it was expendable, as if we knew that we, or someone we love would be drinking that water sooner or later.
Rebecca Power, Network Director
By: Rebecca Power
In today’s world, communication in the public sphere is not for the faint of heart. Communicating about how we value and manage water is no different. One of the practices that critical thinkers and effective communicators use is to first offer some common definitions.
Economists have defined four potential categories for all “goods” in our economic system:
So why do these categories matter? Assigning a water management decision to the right economic category will influence whether that water is managed sustainably or unsustainably. As competition for finite water resources continues to increase, economists can help us develop rules that work for the benefit of all water users. Note that rules can be in the form of government regulation and incentives, best practices set by professional organizations, or social norms developed and kept current by local communities. Regardless of how they are set and enforced, well-developed rules ensure that water is available and safe for all water users.
A new report from the Risky Business Project, founded by economic powerhouses Henry Paulson, Michael Bloomberg, and Tom Steyer takes a clear-eyed look at the at the economic risks of climate change and, more importantly, the economic opportunities of shifting to a clean energy economy. They conclude that there are both short- and long-term economic opportunities for investors that also reduce the risk of negative climate change impacts.
Their research-driven bottom line: a clean energy economy is both desirable and possible.
In some ways, we are facing the same risks and opportunities when it comes to providing clean and plentiful water supplies. We can continue to look solely at the costs of best practices for managing water, in agriculture or in urban water infrastructure. Or we can look at those costs as risk management investments that also reduce the drag on our economy resulting from wasted water, polluted drinking water (e.g. Toledo, Flint), and unsightly lakes and streams that reduce property values and tourism revenue.
In urbanized areas, USEPA estimates that we lose an estimated $2.6 billion annually in treated water that leaks out of damaged water mains. In both urban and rural areas, avoidable water contaminants like nutrients, lead, and toxins produced by blue-green algae are either adding costs to treatment, or damaging human and animal health.
Proactive clean water investments can and do fund local:
Innovations that prevent problems arguably provide more value than jobs created to clean up damage caused by short-sighted thinking and poor planning.
One of the hallmarks of American leadership in the world is our can-do attitude.
We can maintain a strong economic position in the world and provide the cleanest, most sustainable water supplies. In fact, I would argue that these two goals are mutually dependent.
So, as we leave 2016 behind and think ahead to a new year and an approaching new decade, I ask you to reflect. Can we create a clean water economy? I say YES.
Are you up for the challenge?
Rebecca Power, Network Director
Across the Mississippi River Basin, 45% reductions in nitrogen and phosphorus loads are necessary to meet national goals established to reduce the size of the Gulf of Mexico hypoxic zone. There are a number of practices now being promoted as a part of state nutrient strategies, all of which have different N-reduction effectiveness, spatial suitability, additional benefits and impacts, and cost. No one practice will be suitable for every acre, but every acre needs at least one new practice. A newly funded North Central Region Water Network Seed Grant project, led by the University of Illinois, is underway to develop a comprehensive package of information about these drainage water quality-improvement practices. This effort is leading off with the release of a booklet entitled “Ten Ways to Reduce Nitrogen Loads from Drained Cropland in the Midwest,” and will include presentations for educators, online modules for additional audiences, and a Ten Ways summary factsheet. Click the link above to download an electronic copy of the booklet.
The Ten Ways strategies include in-field cropping and management strategies (i.e., practices that reduce nitrate in the root zone), in-field strategies that modify the drainage system (i.e., practices that reduce delivery of nitrate to the field’s edge), and edge-of-field strategies (i.e., practices that remove nitrate at the edge of the field or downstream).
Please click here to complete a Google Form requesting access to the PowerPoint presentation modules that accompany the Ten Ways booklet. We’ll also provide a survey for your program to help us track understanding of the the Ten Ways and to evaluate the impact of this project.
Please credit the Ten Ways information, images, and associated presentation materials as:
Christianson, L.E., J. Frankenberger, C. Hay, M.J. Helmers, and G. Sands, 2016. Ten Ways to Reduce Nitrogen Loads from Drained Cropland in the Midwest. Pub. C1400, University of Illinois Extension.
In November, Water Rocks! hosted the Multi-State Youth Water Education Summit for non-traditional educators. This two-day Summit, hosted at Reiman Gardens in Ames, Iowa, brought together more than twenty educators from Iowa, Nebraska, Missouri, and South Dakota. Winner of a 2016 Iowa Governor’s Environmental Excellence Award in Environmental Education and based at Iowa State University, Water Rocks! is Iowa’s unique statewide youth water education program.
Participants at the early November Summit represented a wide range of professions, from county extension and state DNR offices, to 4-H and county conservation programs and botanical gardens. Thanks to generous funding from the North Central Region Water Network, Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, and the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (US EPA, Section 319 of the Clean Water Act), educators were able to take advantage of the opportunity to come to Iowa State University for water quality education and Water Rocks! training, and received not only reimbursement for their travel expenses, but also took home $800 worth of educational materials to use in their home programs!
Educators attending the Summit heard from Iowa State University faculty on the newest research related to water quality, soil health, nutrient transport from agricultural land, erosion and climate change. These expert presentations were followed up with interactive demonstrations from ISUEO’s Water Rocks! team, allowing Summit participants to channel their inner 5th graders, and engage with the educational presentations just as students would. Water Rocks! youth education modules covered a wide range of environmental topics, including biodiversity, watersheds, wetland ecosystems, and soil health. Attendees participated in regional roundtables to share their tools of the trade with the larger group, and also discussed the challenges they face in their home states in reaching target audiences.
The Water Rocks! Multi-State Youth Water Education Summit for non-traditional educators was an overwhelming success. It opened up dialogue among professionals in neighboring Midwestern states who face similar environmental issues and outreach challenges, and who hope to utilize Water Rocks! educational materials and music videos to address some of those challenges, and bring in a fresh, artistic perspective to their existing programming.