My nephew, Thomas, is a chef. He is part of 21st century gig economy in the San Francisco Bay area, hangs with food entrepreneurs, tech entrepreneurs, angel investors, and occasionally gets to Tahoe for a weekend of snowboarding with friends. Prior to COVID-19 pandemic, he was regularly hosting pop-up dining events featuring mouthwatering combinations of the freshest locally sourced produce and meat with thoughtfully chosen imports. One seven course tasting menu for an event he held in the Midwest included courses such as: sweet corn, caviar, crème fraîche, and chive; local trout, brown butter, and fennel; heritage pork, La Ratte potato, brassica, cherry . . . you get the idea. Like many people in the restaurant industry, he is struggling. Also like many others, he is finding ways to provide food, an essential service, in ways that can keep people both healthy and inspired during a deeply challenging time.
There are two questions embedded in my nephew’s story that we at the North Central Region Water Network are considering, and we hear many of you considering as well. First, what is an “essential service” during this time of uncertainty and upheaval? Second, how do we respond so that we are making the best use of our skills and resources to serve our families, loved ones, and communities?
Though water is our regular gig here at the North Central Region Water Network, I am grateful water is not top-of-the-fold news right now. Ramping up health care services for those sickened by the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19 is our top priority, along with protecting people from the negative consequences of the physical distancing we are doing to keep one another safe until more tests, treatments, and a vaccine can be developed.
If water was in the headlines, that would mean one more important thread in the lifeline that holds our communities together would be at risk. Imagine if the people of Toledo, or any community, were to lose access to clean drinking water now? The people of Flint, Michigan are still dealing with the chronic consequences of a devastating systemic failure, and as recently as last August, Flint’s sewage treatment systems were overwhelmed, spilling approximately 2 million gallons of untreated sewage into the Flint River.
So, while we check on loved ones by phone or internet, learn new skills to keep our kids on track during the remote school days, and help our local community in whatever way we can, it is important that those of us who have expertise in managing our water resources continue to do so. In some ways, it might be even more important. After all, water does not stop moving because of COVID-19. So, what can we do?
We can develop resources to address the unique challenges of COVID-19 and we can repackage existing resources to make them more accessible. Extension educators and specialists across our region are providing more online resources to address the unique challenges of COVID-19 and increase access to the wealth of information Extension has always provided.
We can help people keep soil and nutrients where they belong as the soil thaws, keep our drinking water safe, work with partners like the National Weather Service to provide early warning on potential spring flooding issues, and keep critical conversations about equity in water resource management alive.
And we know each of you are taking on this challenge in your own way. So, while we try to take in each day in stride, we can listen carefully to the people we work with and serve. The world has changed, and the change has affected everyone differently.
While this is a challenging time, laughter is great medicine, so thanks to those of you that have sent a joke or a funny YouTube video our way. If you’re on Twitter, check out @neorsd for useful information and some of the best water humor around!
And finally, a hearty and heartfelt thank you to all of you out there still doing your jobs, with dedication and skill, to keep our water flowing safely and in the right direction. You are essential. Please leave us a note in the comments if there are additional online water-related resources that you are needing right now. We will do our best to assist!
Network Director, Rebecca Power
Rebecca Power the Director of the North Central Region Water Network branded program within the University of Wisconsin-Madison Division of Extension Natural Resources Institute. During her nearly 19 years with Extension, she has developed and supported successful multi-state, multi-disciplinary teams to address water resource issues in the Upper Midwest and created stronger linkages between the environmental and social sciences in water resource management. She began her career with a private consulting firm restoring savannas, prairies, wetlands, and spent eight years with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service using adaptive management strategies in the restoration of savanna ecosystems.