My fellow Extension Directors and I need your assistance and collaboration in addressing water quality and quantity issues across the North Central Region. Water has been in the news a lot lately, too frequently as bad news. California is facing its worst drought in decades. 100-year storms seem much more frequent than once a century. Chemical contamination of rivers in West Virginia and North Carolina provide a painful reminder of the need for vigilance and rigor in the protection of water resources.
If these stories have any bright side, it is that they remind us of a fundamental truth. Whether we’re growing corn or cattle, making plastics or paper, drinking water out of the tap, brewing it into beer, fishing, swimming, or watching the sunset over our favorite lake or stream, none of these activities is possible without water.
As an Extension Director in the North Central Region, I have the privilege of seeing our educators work with individuals, organizations, communities, and state/federal agencies to address the diversity of water resources we face in the Midwest. Most of our states are seen as water rich. Minnesota boasts the nickname “land of 10,000 lakes”. Michigan is sometimes called the Great Lakes state because its shores touch four of the Laurentian Great Lakes. The mighty Mississippi River courses down the middle of our nation’s breadbasket. However, looking west to our neighbors in Great Plains states, water scarcity is a fact of life. As a result, they’ve learned valuable lessons about water conservation that my home state of Illinois and my current state of Wisconsin are only beginning to apply.
This brings me to an important point about Extension education in the 21st century. Water resource management is complex and changing quickly as our climate and land uses change, and to respond effectively, we must work together across states and institutions to provide research, education, and community engagement programs that move us toward more sustainable ways of managing our water.
Each of our universities has unique and talented individuals that specialize in a wide range of topics. Livestock management, urban stormwater management, irrigation management, drainage management, volunteer engagement, social marketing and behavior change, economic development, and public policy are just a few of the many areas of expertise Extension has to offer across the North Central Region. Here’s another fundamental truth – no one state has the ability to provide all the necessary expertise.
That is why my fellow Extension Directors and I are urging you to participate in the new North Central Region Water Network. The goals of the Network are to:
- Increase connectivity and learning among university professionals and our partners engaged in water-related research, education, and management
- Strengthen the resource base available for Extension education
- Generate measurable environmental and social impacts in the short and long-term
The Network will build on the successes of the Great Lakes, Heartland, and Northern Plains and Mountains Regional Water Programs work to strengthen linkages among the diverse and rich water extension and research programs currently underway in each of our states. Our purpose is not to create another institute or center. We want to bring educators and researchers together across state lines to address issues expressed by the individuals, organizations, and communities we serve. And we want to celebrate successes that our collective research and educational programs bring to those dependent on water quantity and quality.
Each Extension Director in the North Central Region has designated a State Coordinator to bring the needs of each state to the region and to bring regional resources back to their respective states. Please contact your State Coordinator to learn more about what the North Central Water Network might have to offer you. We encourage educators working on both state and local water-related issues to get involved. The Network is looking to serve all Extension colleagues as well as researchers that are looking to expand their outreach efforts. If you’re not sure who your State Coordinator is, you can find them all here.
Keep in mind that the Network is forming now, so we are looking for contributors and expect the resources available to educators to grow over time. In addition to the State Coordinators, the Network is offering The Current, a seven part “speed networking” series for university extension and research professionals interested in accessing the best water-related research and extension programming from across the North Central region. The Current speed networking webinars will begin on April 2 by addressing a critical topic across the region, “Managing Water Supply: Resources for Education, Engagement, and Research”. I will be doing the first presentation to introduce the Network. Then three speakers will have 10 minutes each to provide a snapshot of their applied research or extension work and why it might be useful to you. In the remaining 20 minutes, participants will have the opportunity to ask questions and engage in discussion with colleagues. You can find more information about The Current here, and I invite you all to attend.
On behalf of my fellow Extension Directors, I thank you for the transformative work you do every day to make our states and communities more vibrant and sustainable places to live. We hope that the North Central Region Water Network will be a valuable resource for you as you address water-related issues with the constituencies you serve.
Extension Director Liaison
University of Wisconsin-Extension