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April 2017 Newsletter 
North Central Region Water Network
Extension-led, community-driven outreach and education
Director's Update

New Hope
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 .


Rebecca Power, Network Director


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Network Initiatives

Visit our Network Initiative Page  for more information on current and previous initiatives, and future funding opportunities. 

Ten Ways to Reduce Nitrogen Loads from Drained Cropland in the Midwest

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 (USEPA, 2007). To address this challenge, nutrient loss reduction strategies were completed in Iowa in 2013, Minnesota in 2014, and Illinois and Indiana in 2015. The recent release of these state-based strategies in the upper Midwest has heightened the conversation around drainage nitrate loss to an unprecedented level. While tile drainage systems are essential components of agriculture in this area (Skaggs and van Schilfgaarde, 1999), we must collectively work at a scale never before realized to meet our water quality goals. This effort will require a variety of water quality practices implemented broadly across the Corn Belt landscape. No one practice will be suitable for every acre, but every acre needs at least one new practice to meet these ambitious goals.

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. Producers, crop advisors, and agri-business and drainage industry professionals are being asked to consider these practices, but there is no comprehensive multi- state source of information presented in a practical Extension-style format allowing these practices to be compared and assessed for suitability at individual sites. Consistent and thorough information is required to provide clarity about these practices to aid in on-farm decision making and informed policy and planning decisions across the region.

This project will develop a comprehensive package of information about drainage water quality-improvement practices by leveraging a near-finalized booklet focused on these practices. This nearly complete 44-pg Ten Ways to Reduce Nitrogen Loads from Drained Cropland in the Midwest booklet presents practical information on the functionality and benefits of ten practices that reduce nitrate loads transported in tile drainage. Most specifically, the "problem" is that while significant effort has been invested to develop this booklet, it is possible that the audiences that would most benefit from improved understanding of these practices may not access this information in this format. New products supporting this booklet will increase the reach of this material, and will improve understanding of these practices across the multi-state region.

Intended Impacts
The benefit of this consistently branded and promoted package is that it will provide information for a variety of audiences. The completed 10 Ways to Reduce Nitrogen Loads from Drained Cropland in the Midwest booklet will be available online and in print to be most broadly available to farmers, crop advisors, drainage and conservation professionals, and agency staff. The PowerPoint slide deck paired with the booklet are intended for Extension and other educators across the region. The online module will be accessed by crop advisors, drainage contactors, and others looking for in-depth and interactive online content about individual practices. A variation of the online module, including a learning assessment quiz, will be available for certified crop advisor continuing education credit. A summary factsheet will be available online and in print for more informal "browsing" audiences.

We will develop a comprehensive educational package that provides information on a suite of ten drainage water quality practices to a variety of audiences across the multi-state region. This educational package will include online interactive content and in print content that will leverage the in-progress 10 Ways to Reduce Nitrogen Loads from Drained Cropland in the Midwest booklet and a previously developed PowerPoint presentation. The  online interactive module and a summary factsheet for the project will be available later this year. This consistently branded and widely promoted package will use a variety of media to increase understanding and encourage implementation of these water quality-improvement practices that reduce nitrate transport in agricultural drainage systems. 

Click  here to download an electronic copy of the Ten Ways booklet (pdf file)

To order printed copies of the booklet, visit

Laura Christianson
Assistant Professor, Department of Crop Sciences, University of Illinois




Leadership Spotlight

Each month we call attention to a significant state-led project and associated leadership team member from our Network. These spotlights demonstrate the diversity of ongoing water research and outreach projects in our region. Please contact your state's North Central Region Water Network Leadership Team member for details on the projects in your area. 

OSU Extension Helps City of Columbus to Protect Drinking Water

In 2014, an interdisciplinary Extension team  of Bill Grunkemeyer, a recently retired OSU  Extension
specialist, Myra Moss, CD  Educator and myself was formed to serve as a sub-contractor to an engineering firm on a proposal to revise the watershed master plan for the City of Columbus. The engineering firm was awarded the contract, and, between August, 2014 and February, 2016, Myra, Bill and I worked with the primary contractor and staff from the Columbus Department of Public Utilities to develop strategies to address pollutants from agricultural land in the drinking water source watersheds. I chose this project for the  Leadership Spotlight because I believe it is representative of the unique  role the  University Extension systems can play  in water resource management.

Before I describe the project, let me share some basic information about the City  of  Columbus  and  their drinking water issues.  The City of Columbus serves over one million citizens with their public drinking water utility. Most of that water (83%) is surface water that is captured in three large reservoirs. The Upper Scioto River watershed that supplies the drinking water reservoirs is largely agricultural, with more than 70% of the land use in row crop agriculture, concentrated animal feeding facilities, or pasture. As a result, the City has occasionally had to issue nitrate advisories due to fertilizer runoff. They have also had issues with herbicides (Atrazine), taste and odor issues from algae, and reduced reservoir volumes caused by sedimentation.  The City has had success working with farmers   in the Upper Big Walnut Creek, one of the  smaller  sub-watersheds of the Upper Scioto, where Atrazine was showing up in Hoover Reservoir and the city's drinking water intakes just downstream. The City worked with the Soil and Water Conservation District and Ohio EPA to provide financial incentives to farmers to substitute Atrazine with other less problematic herbicides. The buy down program was largely successful, but the City has not been as active in the other sub-watersheds of the Upper Scioto and conservation professionals have not been as successful at organizing farmers in these areas to promote conservation practices.
The task for the OSU Extension team was to develop a strategy for the City of Columbus to engage
the agricultural community in promoting conservation practices in the Upper Scioto watershed that would be acceptable to farmers and would address the pollutants of concern (Nitrogen, Phosphorus, and sediments).  To accomplish that task, we worked closely with the primary contractor and our own university specialists to identify a wide range of best management practices (BMPs) and to rate those BMPs based on a number of criteria, including the effectiveness of the practice, which pollutants were addressed, the cost of implementation and levels of acceptance among farmers. We also met with 
representatives of the Soil and Water Conservation Districts, Ohio Farm Bureau Federation, agricultural consultants, and commodity groups (e.g., Ohio Soybean Association) to gather ideas on engaging farmers in watershed protection strategies and to assess the willingness of the agricultural community to collaborate with the City of Columbus to improve water quality.  The core recommendation to the City was to take the lead on convening representatives of the agricultural stakeholder groups, including individual farmers, in a pilot sub-watershed to create a network of collaborators. The network would be supported by the city and partner agencies, particularly the Soil and Water Conservation Districts, by providing base level funding, meeting space, data and information from specialists and facilitation services, but representatives of the stakeholder groups would be responsible for making decisions and directing further inquiry to identify sources of pollutants and appropriate BMPs to address those pollutants.
Since the Extension team finalized our recommendations to the City, we have joined collaborators from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Iowa State University, University of Nebraska, and University of Kentucky on a project funded by USEPA to identify best practices for engaging farmers in watershed-scale initiatives to address nutrient losses from farmland in the Mississippi River basin. As part of that project, we will be using the City of Columbus and the Upper Scioto watershed as a pilot for testing out best practices for farmer engagement. A second pilot will also be conducted in Arkansas. We hope to learn from these pilot studies but we are also focused on providing a valuable service to the watershed leaders and agricultural stakeholders we'll be working with by expanding their professional networks and by giving them access to some of the most knowledgeable and experienced watershed leaders in the Mississippi River Basin.

Joe Bonnell, The Ohio State University

Joe Bonnell currently serves as Program Director for Watershed Management in the School of Environment and Natural Resources. He received his PhD in Natural Resources from The Ohio State University in 2001. His extension and research programs have focused on collaborative approaches to watershed management and fostering behavior change to address nonpoint source pollution, particularly in agricultural watersheds. Dr. Bonnell was a member of the team that developed the Social Indicators Planning and Evaluation System to improve the delivery and evaluation of education and outreach programs targeting nonpoint source pollution. He is also co-director of the Ohio Watershed Academy and Ohio Environmental Leaders Institute.

Joe Bonnell, PhD
Program Director, Watershed Management/The Ohio State University School of Environment and Natural Resources
(614) 292-9383


National Adaptation Forum
Saint Paul, MN. May 9 - May 11
The National Adaptation Forum gathers the adaptation community to foster knowledge exchange, innovation and mutual support for a better tomorrow.  The Forum includes opportunities for professional development through formal trainings, facilitated practitioner presentations, and informal exchange of information all at a single venue. This event affords attendees the opportunity to learn more about how to make their work climate smart, share what they have learned with others, and develop a stronger network to be climate savvy in all that they do.  The goal of the National Adaptation Forum convening is to develop a program that provides guidance through the steps of the adaptation process, as well as across the spectrum of adaptation activities in the United States and around the world today. Learn more.

CSA2017 Conference - Citizen Science
Saint Paul, MN. May 17
With great momentum and energy, the citizen science movement has taken on a life all its own, independent of disciplines and resistant to disciplining. As tributaries of related work join together they simultaneously strengthen and muddy our disciplinary waters, and in their wake we are left to determine when to paddle upstream and when to let the current propel us forward.  This citizen science conference is a confluence of our collective interests and struggles, and researchers, practitioners, community organizations, and participants are all welcome. Learn more.

Emerging Contaminants in the Aquatic Environment Conference
Champaign, IL. May 31 - June 1
The   Illinois Sustainable Technology Center   (ISTC), a division of the   Prairie Research Institute   at the University of Illinois, and  Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant  are organizing the   Emerging Contaminants in the Aquatic Environment Conference , which will be held on May 31 - June 1, 2017 in Champaign, Illinois.  The conference is an expansion of the successful  Pharmaceuticals and Personal Care Products in the Environment Conference   held in Champaign in April 2016.  ISTC and IISG encourage researchers, educators, businesses, government officials, outreach and extension professionals, environmental groups, and members of the general public to attend this conference. Learn more.

Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Green Infrastructure Conference
Detroit, MI. May 31 - June 2
Save the date for the first ever Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Green Infrastructure Conference, May 31 - June 2, 2017, at Cobo Hall in Detroit, Michigan. This conference will draw up to 1,000 engineers, landscape architects, water quality professionals, government officials (local, state, provincial, and federal), developers, planners, academia, drain and road agencies, conservation and non-profit organizations, and interest groups from around the Great Lakes basin in Canada and the U.S.   This is the first conference to focus on using green infrastructure across the landscape with a primary goal to protect the surface waters in the Great Lakes region. The time is right for a comprehensive look at this important topic. Learn more.

Do you know of an upcoming water or conservation event in the Midwest? Add it to the NCRWN website here

Funding and Other Opportunities

Great Lakes Bay Watershed Education and Training Program (B-WET) FY18
The NOAA Office of National Marine Sanctuaries is seeking proposals under the Great Lakes B-WET Program. The Great Lakes B-WET Program is a competitive grant program that supports existing, high quality environmental education programs, fosters the growth of new, innovative programs, and encourages capacity building and partnership development for environmental education programs throughout the entire Great Lakes watershed. Successful projects provide Meaningful Watershed Educational Experiences (MWEEs) for students and related professional development for teachers, while advancing regional Great Lakes education and environmental priorities. This program addresses NOAA's Long-Term Goal of "Healthy Oceans: Marine fisheries, habitats, and biodiversity are sustained within healthy and productive ecosystems" and "NOAA's Engagement Enterprise Objective for An engaged and educated public with an improved capacity to make scientifically informed environmental decisions". Learn more. 

FY17 Region 5 Wetland Program Development Grants
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is soliciting proposals from eligible applicants to develop or refine state/tribal/local government wetland programs as described in Section I, FUNDING OPPORTUNITY DESCRIPTION, of this announcement. States, tribes, local government agencies, interstate agencies, and intertribal consortia are eligible to apply under this announcement, as further described herein. Universities that are agencies of a state government are eligible, but must include documentation demonstrating that they are chartered as part of a state government in the proposal submission.  Learn more. 

Aquatic Habitat Restoration for the Lower Osage River Protection and Enhancement Program
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) is seeking an qualified entity to assess, design, and implement 2 - 10 aquatic habitat restoration projects within the lower 82 miles of the Osage River, in central Missouri, from Bagnell Dam (38.203937; - 92.624393) to the confluence with the Missouri River. The total amount of funding available for this announcement is $1,000,000. Currently, the Service and Missouri Department of Conservation have identified and prioritized specific aquatic habitat restoration project opportunities within the lower Osage River. The entity will work closely with the Partners on all phases of the project. Substantial involvement on the part of the Service is anticipated for the successful completion of the activities to be funded.  Learn more.

Cooperative Training Partnership in Aquatic Toxicology and Ecosystem Research
EPA-ORD seeks applications from eligible entities to enter into a cooperative agreement with EPA that will provide training opportunities for undergraduate, graduate, and post-doctoral trainees on-site at ORD's Mid- Continent Ecology Division (MED) research facilities located in Duluth, Minnesota. It is envisioned that the training program will increase both the effectiveness and number of future environmental scientists. The recipient is responsible for arranging training projects under the mentorship of EPA scientists that complement and extend the trainees' academic coursework and research experience. Appropriate fields of study for trainees include, but are not limited to, biology, chemistry, computer science, ecology, economics, engineering, environmental science, physical science, social science, toxicology and water policy. Learn more.

BLM-[WO], Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Support
Collaboratively develop and deploy invasive species outreach materials targeted to anglers, hunters, and boaters, to prevent the spread and impact of invasive plants and animals in the western United States through advertisements in state game and boating regulation booklets and sportsmen magazines and the production of invasive species awareness materials to be used at public launches, using the industry and government standard of Clean Drain Dry. Develop on-the-ground cold-water fisheries habitat restoration projects for native trout and other species. Develop on-the-ground cold-water fisheries habitat restoration projects which will also support riparian restoration in Greater Sage-Grouse priority habitats. Develop working lands/conservation ranching initiatives which support conservation of native trout fisheries using land management practices which support healthy, balanced ecosystems. Learn more.

In Case You Missed it...

The Current  is a speed networking webinar series for professionals engaged in water-related extension, research, and conservation activities. The North Central Region Water Network and Extension Directors from all 12 North Central states are sponsoring this series to highlight the best water-related research and Extension programming in the region. Webinars will run for 60 minutes, with three 10-minute project snapshots and 30 minutes of QA/peer-to-peer interaction.

Upcoming: The Current 28 - Seeing Your Story: Data Visualization and Mapping in Education and Outreach
May 17, 2017, 2:00-3:00 CT
  • Shane Bradt, University of New Hampshire Extension

Past:  The Current 27 - Nitrogen Management in Tile Drained Landscapes
April 19, 2017, 2:00-3:00 CT
  • Laura Christianson, University of Illinois: Choose Your Own Adventure: New Materials Describe Ten Conservation Drainage Practices
  • Jane Frankenberger, Purdue University: Transforming Drainage Through a Collaborative Research, Extension, and Stakeholder Network
  • Chris Hay, Iowa Soybean Association: Advancing Conservation Drainage in Iowa


ThinkWater Fellows Announced for 2017-18
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.   Learn more.

The Midwest's Weather Whiplash Threatens Groundwater
Scientists fear the Midwest's new fluctuating weather patterns will exacerbate an old problem: nitrate contamination.  In states like Minnesota, Kansas, Iowa and Oklahoma, nitrate - a component in many common synthetic fertilizers that can cause serious illness in infants - has long posed a problem for local water supplies. The Midwest provides the perfect conditions to carry nitrogen into the water table: a relatively shallow groundwater level, porous soils that allow the fertilizers to leach through and more cultivated fields than woodlands.  With climate models predicting the region will increasingly swing between droughts and heavy downpours, researchers say the situation threatens to deteriorate. Learn more.

Michigan Lakes are Getting Saltier; Road Salt to Blame
Our freshwater lakes are getting saltier - and one of the largest studies ever of lake salinity blames the use of de-icing salts for roads.  That could eventually mean disruption of aquatic ecosystems, and even make lakes unusable for drinking water or irrigation, the researchers say.  The study of North American lakes predicts that many freshwater lakes will have salt levels exceeding parameters set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, above which significant risks would be expected for a majority of species - "in the next 50 years if current trends continue." The study, published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences' PNAS journal, looked at 371 inland freshwater lakes throughout the Midwest and Northeast, where the highest density of freshwater lakes occurs in North America. Studied lakes were required to have at least 10 years of data sampling for chloride content, lower mean chloride concentrations to exclude brackish lakes, and a surface area of 4 hectares or larger. Learn more.

Crown Point City Water is Safe Following Lake Michigan Spill
City water is safe for residents after U.S. Steel's Midwest Plant in Portage last week spilled the carcinogenic chemical hexavalent chromium into a tributary flowing into Lake Michigan, according to Mayor David Uran's office.  Uran said in a statement released Monday the city's Public Works water division tests its water supply daily per the Indiana Department of Environmental Management to insure its quality and compliance.  The mayor said the city has been in contact with Indiana American Water and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for updates on the Lake Michigan spill.  "The water that the city of Crown Point receives from Indiana American Water is collected approximately three miles off shore and several miles away from the spill site," Uran said. Learn more.

Great Lakes Water Piped to Southwest 'Our Future,' Says NASA Scientist
The idea is as old and dusty as the desert Southwest: Pipe abundant Great Lakes water to parched cities out West, such as Phoenix and Las Vegas. The idea's been dismissed for as long as it's been pitched, with adamant opposition from Great Lakes states, whose representatives crafted a pact with Canada just to stop such a thing.  But the latest person to see large-scale Great Lakes water diversions as a future likelihood might make some in the Midwest do a double take - the chief water scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California.  Jay Famiglietti, a hydrologist and senior water scientist at JPL, raised the possibility in  an April 4 interview.  Learn more.

Release of Manure and Soil Health Blog
This will be a monthly article with the purpose of defining the current state of the science related to manure's impact on soil health.  A team of university and NRCS professionals from the North Central region are initiating several educational activities addressing MaSH topics including this blog. View the blog  here.
Learn more about NCRWN

NCRWN Fact Sheet
Want to see what we have been up to in the North Central Region Water Network? Check out our fact sheet for more details. 

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We work together to expand and enhance multi-state water outreach and research efforts across the North Central Region of the United States.

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