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November 2016 Newsletter 
North Central Region Water Network
Extension-led, community-driven outreach and education
Director's Update
 The Future of the North Central Region Water Network

 There are many things to be thankful for in 2016.  While this election          season has been a rough ride for the United States of America, during the  Thanksgiving holiday I saw friends and family expressing gratitude for one  another and celebrating the fruits of a bountiful harvest. The differences  are still there. What's important is our commitment to work together toward  the goals we share.

 Many of you know that the North Central Region Water Network was also  up for "re-election" in a bid to continue beyond our three-year pilot period  which ends this December.  We are thankful that Extension Directors in the North Central Region, with support from our Regional Administrative Council of Partners, have agreed to continue providing foundational funding through December 2019.  You can review some of what we've been able to accomplish and where we'd like to head in the future by reviewing our Prospectus.

My fervent hope as we move into 2017, is that we recognize what I heard Dave Muth, AgSolver, Inc. say recently, as many others before him have said:  "profitability and conservation are not in competition" , particularly if we take the long view. Clean, sufficient water supplies are a necessity for the people of this region and the nation.  And when it comes to soil, water, and health of people depending on our food and water resources, the long view is the only one that makes sense.

Extension educators and researchers at land-grant universities can help make water-related decisions that result in dependable jobs, healthy water supplies, and vibrant communities that attract and maintain workers and families. If you believe in this vision, we hope you will join us over the next three years in moving ahead.  Feel free to contact me or other members of our Network Leadership Team  with ideas or questions.   


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. 

Multi-State Water Rocks! Youth Education Summit

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. 

Water Rocks! Award Announcement 

Jamie Benning,  Water Quality Program Manager
303E East Hall
Ames, IA 50011
(515) 294-6038


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. 

Building on Partnerships to Address Local Water Quality Needs
Improving water quality is a national mindset, but solutions often take on a regional approach given differences in landscape, policy and stakeholders. In South Dakota, the suite of ongoing water quality research and outreach has evolved over the last five years in response to increased drainage capacity and urban/rural interfaces. There is a focus on combining lab and plot scale work with field-scale testing to address local needs, but also feed into national-level collaborations. The following projects demonstrate the importance of partnerships at all levels.
Improving Drain Tile Water Quality
Wood-chip bed bioreactors are a recognized method for nitrate removal from drain tile outlets. However, just as important as the level of water quality improvement is guidance on their design and operation. Since 2012, four field-scale bioreactors have been installed in Eastern South Dakota to collect data, but also serve as educational aids for local producers, conservation staff and interested public.
Local drain tile water remediation research has expanded to include Phosphorus (P) adsorption beds. They consist of a subsurface structure filled with a carbon steel turnings.   A field-scale P adsorption bed was built in 2015. Through the summer of 2016, phosphorus reductions from tile drainage water ranged from 10% to 96%, with an average reduction of 51%. The P removal effectiveness is largely dependent on flow rate; therefore, ongoing research will be determining the optimum size of P adsorption bed to have effective treatment among a large variation of flow rates. From a management perspective, the steel turnings in the P adsorption bed will last for about 2 years.
Saturated buffers are the latest nitrate removal mechanism added to the suite of field-scale demonstrations in South Dakota. A saturated buffer is a riparian buffer with a raised water table.  The saturated buffer can then reduce the nitrate concentration and load through (1) direct uptake of nitrogen by the vegetation in the buffer, (2) converting nitrate-nitrogen into harmless nitrogen gas that is released back into the atmosphere, and (3) reducing the water volume entering the stream through water uptake by the vegetation. Two field-scale saturated buffer systems are up and operational in eastern South Dakota as of 2016, and have caught the attention of local policy makers, in addition to producers and conservation staff.
Bacteria Flow and Transport at the Urban/Rural Interface
Nearly 70% of South Dakota's assessed rivers and streams are considered impaired or threatened of becoming impaired. The number one cause of impairment is bacteria, including E. coli which is responsible for poor water quality in over 2,000 miles of streams in the state. Bacteria source and transport has been a hot topic in the Big Sioux River Watershed, where the river and tributaries snake between vast expanses of crop and pasture ground, before meeting the city of Sioux Falls. The source of bacteria loading has been a large focus of recent Total Maximum Daily Load Assessments, but has also brought up questions as to the role of sediments and storm events, especially for bacteria like E. coli that can survive and persist in the environment.  Monitoring sites have been identified through cooperation with the Moody County Conservation District and the South Dakota Department of Environment and Natural Resources to measure and understand the E. coli concentrations in this potential source change over time in Skunk Creek. 
A second study is underway to examine the attachment of bacteria to particles during storm events.   The goal is to estimate the transport distance and load contributions from attached and unattached bacteria, providing information for management practices that reduce loading.  Initial results indicate that approximately 25% of E. coli during storm events are attached while baseflow has almost no bacterial attachment, indicating longer settling times would be required to remove the bacteria from the water column.  More work is being conducted to assess the impact of physical factors, such as flow, on the percent attachment. 

Erin Cortus, Assistant Professor / SDSU Extension Environmental Quality Engineer, South Dakota State University

Erin Cortus is an Assistant Professor and a South Dakota State University Extension Environmental Quality Engineer. Since joining SDSU Extension in 2009, Erin's research, extension, and teaching responsibilities have been centered on air quality and waste management for livestock facilities. She focuses her work on balancing animal, worker producer and environmental needs in livestock and manure handling systems.


Webinar: Living with Highs and Lows - Climate Change, Water Levels, Tribal Fisheries and Culturally Important Sites
December 1st, December 8th, 2016 11:00 AM - 12:00 PM CST
The University of Michigan's Graham Sustainability Institute is hosting a 4-part webinar series called "Living with Highs and Lows." This webinar series features policies and adaptive actions that communities can implement to help deal with Great Lakes water level fluctuations. Each webinar focuses on a different topic, and has been developed by interdisciplinary research teams that are working with Great Lakes communities to analyze policies and/or adaptive actions implemented in response to water level variability. These webinars are free and open to the public, but pre-registration is required.  More info.

Great Lakes Seminar Series: Silivia Newell
Ann Arbor, MI, December 6, 2016
The Great Lakes Seminar Series presents " Nitrogen Cycling in Eutrophic Systems: Case Studies in Lakes Erie and Taihu" with Silvia Newell, an Assistant Professor at Wright University. Interested participants can attend the seminar in-person at NOAA Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory, Lake Superior Hall, or join remotely.  More info.

Webinar: EPA to Host Webinar Series on Financing Disaster Recovery and Resilience Mitigation for Water and Wastewater Utilities 
December 7th, 2016 11:00 AM - 12:00 PM CST
With the emerging challenges of stronger and more frequent storms, droughts, and floods, the costs to respond are rising.  EPA's Water Infrastructure and Resiliency Finance Center and  EPA's Water Security Division are hosting a free webinar to highlight the financing resources available to utilities and community decision makers for disaster recovery and resilience planning with mitigation. More info.

Funding Opportunities
Great Lakes Restoration Initiative - 2016 Request for Applications
This Request for Applications (RFA) solicits applications from eligible entities for grants and/or cooperative agreements to be awarded pursuant to the  Great Lakes Restoration Initiative Action Plan II . This RFA is the EPA's major competitive grant funding opportunity under the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative for FY 2016 and FY 2017 and is one of several funding opportunities available through federal agencies under the GLRI. More info.

Coastal Program - Fish and Wildlife Service
The Coastal Program is a voluntary, incentive-based program that provides direct technical assistance and financial assistance in the form of cooperative agreements to coastal communities and landowners to restore and protect fish and wildlife habitat on public and private lands. Coastal Program staff coordinate with project partners, stakeholders and other Service programs to identify geographic focus areas and develop habitat conservation priorities within these focus areas. Geographic focus areas are where the Coastal Program directs resources to conserve habitat for federal trust species. More info.

Freshwater Harmful Algal Blooms - Environmental Protection Agency
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, as part of its Science to Achieve Results program, is seeking regular and early career applications proposing innovative research on the prediction, prevention, control and mitigation of freshwater Harmful Algal Blooms as well as the drivers, life cycle patterns, and fate of and effects from less-common, less-studied, and emerging freshwater HAB species and toxins. More info.

Great Lakes Fish and Wildlife Restoration Act
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service requests interested entities to submit restoration, research and Regional Project proposals for the restoration of the Great Lakes Basin fish and wildlife resources, as authorized under the Great Lakes Fish and Wildlife Restoration Act (16 USC 941c). The purpose of the Great Lakes Fish and Wildlife Restoration Act is to provide assistance to States, Indian Tribes, and other interested entities to encourage cooperative conservation, restoration and management of the fish and wildlife resources and their habitats in the Great Lakes Basin. More info.

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.

T he Current Webinar 23:  Land Use of Riparian Ecosystems in the Northern Great Plains: Resources for Extension and Adult Education
  • Mary Berg, North Dakota State University; Presentation Title:  Land Use of Riparian Ecosystems in the Northern Great Plains: Empowering our Educators.
  • Melissa Wuellner, South Dakota State University; Presentation Title: The Basics of Land Use Change and Riparian Management for Extension Professionals
  • Leslie Johnson, University of Nebraska-Lincoln; Presentation Title:  Nutrient and Manure Management: Activities to Enhance the Learning Experience
 Watch here


2017 Conservation Awards - Wisconsin Land + Water
Nominations for the Wisconsin Land + Water Conservation Association 2017 Conservation Awards are open. Awards include Conservation Farmer of the Year, Outstanding Conservation Employee, Outstanding Supervisor, Conservation Steward, and Special Recognition/Friend of Conservation.  Entries should be submitted before December 31 to WI Land+Water, 131 West Wilson Street, Suite 601, Madison, WI 53703 or emailed to
The WI Land+Water Professional Improvement Committee will review submittals and announce the winners by January 25, 2017.  More info.


Videos Showcase Changes and Choices for Land, Water and People in the Yahara Watershed
After more than five years of research, the UW-Madison Water Sustainability and Climate project team has learned a lot about environmental change in Wisconsin's Yahara Watershed. This new mini-documentary series showcases the major lessons they've learned, which could help lead to solutions for managing environmental change in the watershed and beyond. View here. 

Yahara 2070 Discussion Guide: Organize a Discussion Group for the Future of Water and People
The future of water and people depends on the choices we make today - and the ideas we share with each other. The Yahara 2070 discussion guides are free, self-guided conversation tools designed to help groups imagine possible futures and then develop their own vision of a desirable future to work toward.  View here. 

2017 Soil Health Conference: Building Soil Health for Healthy Environment and Farm Profitability
The 2017 Soil Health Conference marks the second year for this event. The conference will be a full two days with a wide range of presentations and formats that address the basic and practical aspects of soil health. The agenda includes speakers from academia, farmers, USDA, non-profit, and industry views concerning soil health understanding, challenges, and potential management practices. There will be also be a poster session highlighting current soil health research efforts.  View here. 

Hidden 'Ocean' Discovered Deep Underground Near Earth's Core
A new study suggests that a  hidden "ocean" is nestled in the Earth's mantle  some 400 miles beneath North America. The hidden reservoir, apparently locked in a blue crystalline mineral called ringwoodite, may hold three times as much water that exists in all the world's surface oceans.  This discovery may help explain  where Earth's water supply came from , and how subterranean water affects the shifting of rock in the Earth's outer crust. View here.

Invasive mussels found near Council Bluffs water plant
Council Bluffs, Iowa  - Council Bluffs officials are trying to determine how far invasive zebra mussels have spread from one of the city's drinking water basins.  The  mussels were found during maintenance this fall, but it's not clear if they have begun to colonize and clog the pipes leading into the city's water treatment plant. View 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 new 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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