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October 2016 Newsletter 
North Central Region Water Network
Extension-led, community-driven outreach and education
Director's Update
The Spiny Water Flea and the Importance of a Systems Approach to Water Resource Management

My home watershed is Lake Wingra, Yahara Watershed, Dane County, Wisconsin. Sometime right arou nd 2009, the spiny water flea was found in Lake Mendota, a part of the chain of rivers and lakes in the Yahara Watershed. While I am sad about the fact that there is now one more complicating factor in our efforts to maintain our local rivers and lakes for everyone to use and enjoy, I love the spiny water flea invasion story because it elegantly illustrates the importance of systems approach in water resource management and why we should err on the side of conservation. 

So what's the story, you ask? 

The spiny water flea is native to the Ponto-Caspian region of Eastern Europe and Western Asia. It hitchhiked to the United States in the ballast water of a transatlantic shipping vessel, invading the Laurentian Great Lakes. It then hopscotched from the Great Lakes to inland lakes in the Midwest and Northeast U.S., including Wisconsin's Lake Mendota.

Figure 1. The Pontocaspian Region.

For decades, conservationists have been working to reduce the amount of phosphorus entering Lake Mendota  and the associated algae blooms. Phosphorus sources are both urban and rural, with the majority of phosphorus coming from agricultural lands. Recent efforts by a diversity of partners have developed a robust plan for meeting water quality standards and an estimate for how much it will cost.

While human efforts to clean up the Yahara Watershed get most of the attention, we have a tiny partner in our efforts - the algae-munching Daphnia.  Daphnia eat enough algae to add 2 feet of water clarity (measured by the depth of secchi disk visibility) in Lake Mendota.

However, to hungry spiny water fleas, Daphnia are " like a nice, slow-moving piece of steak,"
according to researcher Jake Walsh. Spiny water fleas have decimated Daphnia populations and led to subsequent increases in days where the water in Lake Mendota is green and murky.  Walsh and others estimate that a 71% reduction in phosphorus would be required to return the lake to pre-invasion conditions, costing between $80 and $163 million. This is on top of - and substantially more than - the e stimated $44 million to meet to water quality standards.

And this is just one lake, in one Midwestern U.S. state.

For me, this story is a reminder of how important a systems approach is to maintaining our soil and water resources.  If I want to reduce algae blooms in my home watershed and across the North Central Region, I need to consider ballast water management as well as nutrient management planning. Projects like the STRIPS project led by Iowa State University, or projects that deepen our understanding of the microbiome and its impacts on soil and nutrient cycling remind us to think more broadly about how to be effective stewards of water resources.

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. 

Manure and Soil Health: Understanding and Advancing the State of the Science


Farmers and ranchers are becoming increasingly aware of the importance of soil quality/health to the productivity and sustainability of their agricultural system. Research and field observations have demonstrated that carefully managed manure applications can contribute to improved soil quality with limited environmental and social risks. However, a comprehensive assemblage of outputs and conclusions from research studies, field trials, soil labs databases, and other sources has never been developed as a basis for identifying knowledge gaps and directing future activities. Therefore, the purpose of the proposed initiative, Manure & Soil Health: Understanding and Advancing the State of the Science, is to assemble current knowledge on this topic, make it available to those influencing manure and land management decisions, and use it to plan and facilitate future research and programming activities.


This planning project is designed to facilitate: 1) assembly of data to summarize the current state of knowledge on the role of manure in soil health improvement; 2) distribution of this knowledge to those influencing manure management decisions; and 3) identification of future programming needs related to soil health management and funding opportunities to support such programming. The goals of the project will be achieved through four endeavors: 1) distribution of mini-grants (4-5) to support a comprehensive review of literature on the relationship between manure utilization and soil health by undergraduate or graduate students; 2) web-based roundtable discussions among manure and soil health management professionals; 3) a blog focused on manure and soil health; and 4) a face-to-face meeting of the working group to identify research needs to fill gaps in the current knowledge of the role of manure in soil health, subject-related programming needs, and relevant external funding opportunities that can support these long-term efforts.

Intended Impacts

Several key components of this project will facilitate the creation of programming activities related to manure and soil health. These activities will: 1) increase connectivity and learning between university professionals and partners across a diversity of water-related disciplines and roles and 2) generate measurable economic, environmental, and social impacts in the short and long-term, with a focus on nutrient and manure management and soil health. Connectivity and learning between university professionals and partners across a diversity of water-related disciplines and roles will be increased by bringing together experts to evaluate the current state of knowledge and identify critical issues in manure management related to soil health. This knowledge will then guide decision makers about how manure management can be leveraged to increase soil health within a watershed.

Manure and Soil Health Blog

Do you manage a blog, newsletter, or e-news that reaches farmers (crop or animal producers) and/or their advisors?  Would you be willing to receive our blog articles and consider using them within your news resource?  We invite Extension, NRCS, and others to consider recycling our MaSH articles for your local audience use.  If you are interested in receiving future MaSH blogs, please click here to complete a Google Form.
We are also looking for authors for this blog.  More information will be share later for individuals that have research or field experience that might be of interest in the North Central region.  You are welcome to contact Shelby Burlew (,  Mary Berg (, or Rick Koelsch ( for more information on this topic.
Announcement of MaSH Mini-Grants for Science and Database Review
This part of the project is to offer up to four (4) mini-grants, each not to exceed $4,000, to help support post-doc, graduate or undergraduate student appointments to summarize the existing science and databases related to the role of manure in promoting soil health. These mini-grants will support the project's intent to collate information and develop high-quality summary of relevant information suitable for stakeholders.
A "Request for Proposals - MaSH Mini-grants" can be viewed here. Please send proposal and questions to: Teng Lim ( and Rick Koelsch (

Rick Koelsch,  Livestock Environmental Engineer
University of Nebraska-Lincoln


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. 

Promoting On-farm Nitrate Data Collection in Iowa

Figure 1. RetaiN logo.
The retaiN project was inspired by experiences of Tim Smith, an Eagle Grove, Iow a farmer.  Smith participated in tile monitoring and found levels of nitrates in his tile to be higher tha n he preferred even though he had been implementing conservation practices for many years.  T he tile monitoring data moved him to action, leading him to increase his on-farm testing and implement conservation practices that reduce nitrate loss.  Clare Lindahl, Executive Director of Conservati on Districts of Iowa and Jamie Benning, Water Quality Program Manager with Iowa State University Extension and  Outreach (ISUEO) led the effort to develop an easy to use nitrate testing kit to encourage other farmers to gather their own nitrate data to support decision making related to nitrogen management and reduction of nitrate loss.

Through support and partnership from the State Soil Conservation Committee, Iowa Learning Farms, Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, Division of Soil Conservation and Water Quality, the retaiN nitrate testing kits were developed.  The kits include a bottle of 25 Hach nitrate and nitrite testing strips and a booklet with nitrate monitoring instructions, nitrogen practice information and data log section all in a shippable box.  The Hach test strips are simple and easy to use and provide the farmer with a concentration reading in 60 seconds.

During the pilot phase of the project, 500 kits were distributed to established watershed projects, agriculture organizations and ISUEO field agronomists and engineers.  Watershed coordinators and ISUEO specialists distributed the kits to individual farmers and provided follow-up calls and encouragement to sam ple throughout the 2015 growing season.  Farmers were encouraged to sample tile outlets on their farms bi-weekly, or more frequently as time allowed. 

Figure 2. RetaiN Nitrogen Testing Kit
The evaluation feedback from farmers, watershed coordinators, and ISUEO specialists was overwhelmingly positive.  Conducting on-farm tile monitoring through the retaiN project has been a catalyst for farm ers to consider implementing nitrate reduction practices, prioritize additional nitrogen management and explore additional monitoring.  One farmer wrote, "The kit is quick, very simple to use and gives you immediate results. It helps me determine if I am losing any nitrogen".  Several collaborators on the North C entral Region Water Network Volunteer Monitoring seed funding project are also considering adapting the retaiN kit for their states.

For more information about the retaiN project, visit: .

Jamie Benning, Water Quality Program Manager, Iowa State University

Jamie Benning is the Water Quality Program Manager with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. She coordinates existing extension program activities related to water quality, connects with water researchers, and develops new programs to meet current and future needs. Benning connects with external partners and stakeholders to support water quality improvement efforts throughout the state. Benning obtained a bachelor's degree in Agronomy and master's degree in Soil Science, both from Iowa State University. She has 13 years of experience in multi-disciplinary research and extension projects focusing on water quality, watershed management, farmer-leadership, soil quality, and nutrient management.

Jamie Benning, Water Quality Program Manager
Iowa State University Extension and Outreach
303E East Hall


Four-Part Webinar Series: Living with Highs and Lows - Policies and Adaptive Actions for Great Lakes Water Level Variability
November 10, November 17, December 1, December 8, 2016
The Great Lakes Water Levels Integrated Assessment aims to help shoreline property owners and managers and other decision makers meet the challenges and opportunities posed by current and future Great Lakes water level variability. As part of the project, four U.S. and Canadian multidisciplinary research teams have been working with coastal communities and other organizations to identify and analyze polices and adaptive actions regarding water levels. Attend the four-part webinar series to learn more about the strategies identified for each community, ask questions, and share your input. Register for sessions individually. All sessions will run from 12:00 p.m. to 1:00 p.m. EST. More info .

Members of the public are invited to come and share their thoughts and concerns about the implementation of the Clean Water Act and Safe Drinking Water Act in Wisconsin to the Administrator of US EPA's Region V, Robert Kaplan.  Administrator Kaplan will give a brief description of the US EPA's role in Wisconsin and their current activities in Wisconsin, and then he will hear from the public.  This event is sponsored by the Sierra Club - John Muir Chapter, Midwest Environmental Advocates, River Alliance of Wisconsin, Wisconsin Lakes Association and Clean Wisconsin.

Building Resilience to Flooding: Local and Global Perspectives
November 10, 2016, George Washington University, Washington D.C.
Speakers:  Bart de Jong   - Counselor for Infrastructure and the Environment at the Royal Netherlands Embassy,  Mareen Holman - Sustainability Chief, District of Columbia Water and Sewer Authority and  Harrison Newton - 100 Resilient Cities Launch Director, DC, Office of the City Administrator. More info.

2016 Women in Agriculture Conference 
November 4 & 5, 2016  Glades Spring Resort, Daniels, West Virginia
The WVU Extension Service is pleased to present the 2016 Women in Agriculture Conference, November 4-5, 2016, at Glade Springs Resort in Daniels, West Virginia. The Women in Agriculture are proud to present this statewide conference to promote leadership development, and provide production and marketing education for agricultural producers and service providers.  More info.

Funding Opportunities
NOAA Climate Program Office FY2017 - Understanding Climate Impacts on Fish Stocks and Fisheries to Inform Sustainable Management
U.S. climate variability and change influences many parameters that directly and indirectly affect marine ecosystem conditions. To address these issues of growing concern, in 2014 the Office of Atmospheric Research Climate Program Office and the National Marine Fisheries Service Office of Science and Technology launched a partnership to advance understanding of climate-related impacts on fish or other species that support economically important fisheries and fishing communities. For FY17, this OAR/NMFS partnership will solicit proposals under two competitions. The first competition solicits proposals for projects in the California Current Large Marine Ecosystem (CCLME) and the second competition solicits proposals for projects in the Northeast US Continental Shelf Large Marine Ecosystem. 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. The purpose of the Great Lakes Fish and Wildlife Restoration Act is to provide assistance to States, Native American Tribes, and other interested entities to encourage cooperative conservation, restoration and management of fish and wildlife resources and their habitats in the Great Lakes Basin. Successful restoration and research projects have ranged from $2,300 to $2,000,000 with the average project at $121,806. More info.

Sea Grant Fellowships in Marine Resource Economics
The Fellowship Program generally awards two new PhD Fellowships each year to students who are interested in careers related to the development and implementation of quantitative methods for assessing the economics of the conservation and management of living marine resources. Fellows will work on thesis problems of public interest and relevance to NMFS under the guidance of NMFS mentors at participating NMFS Science Centers or Offices. The NMFS-Sea Grant Fellowship in Marine Resource Economics meets NOAA's Healthy Oceans goal of "Marine fisheries, habitats, biodiversity sustained with healthy and productive ecosystems." The expected annual award per Fellow will be $46,000 (Federal plus matching funds), which is funded jointly by NOAA Fisheries and Sea Grant. More info.

In Case You Missed it...


The Current Webinar 22: The Extension Disaster Education Network (EDEN) 101 and Considerations for Partnering with EDEN -  Watch Here
  • Presenter: Steve Cain, Purdue Extension Disaster Communication Specialist and the Indiana Point of Contact for the Extension Disaster Education Network (EDEN)

November 16, 2016:  Land Use of Riparian Ecosystems in the Northern Great Plains: Resources for Extension and Adult Education


Nominations Open for Climate Adaptation Leadership Award
Do you know people or organizations that have made important gains in safeguarding our nation's natural resources from climate change?  Recognize their outstanding efforts by nominating them for a 2017 Climate Adaptation Leadership Award for Natural Resources. Please submit your nomination by 8 p.m. EST on Friday, Nov. 18, 2016.  Learn More and Nominate.

Using Sensors to Spoon-feed Crops with Extreme Precision
In order to profitably produce corn in on Midwestern farms, nitrogen must be added to the soil. But the practice has an unwanted environmental impact: water contamination. A University of Nebraska professor thinks he may have a solution. View here.

Environmental Protection: Information on Federal Agencies' Expenditures and Coordination Related to Harmful Algae 
The Government Accountability Office released the "Environmental Protection: Information on Federal Agencies' Expenditures and Coordination Related to Harmful Algae" report which provides information on 13 federal agencies' HAB-related expenditures from FY 2013 through 2015, plus coordination efforts led by federal agencies, states, international, and academic organizations. It also provides a summary of federal agencies' public websites regarding HABs, what causes them, their human health effects, key research, and more. View here.

Report: What Has Your Ecosystem Done For You Lately?
A report produced in a partnership between Wisconsin Public Radio, Wisconsin Public Television and the University of Wisconsin Cooperative Extension  examines interactions between people and nature and how it might impact the Yahara Watershed in the Madison area in the future. "Understanding potential consequences for ecosystem services can help us make better choices today in terms of how we might mitigate risks or capitalize on opportunities for sustaining or improving them, " said Jenny Seifert, who works on Yahara 2070 as an outreach coordinator for UW-Madison's Water Sustainability and Climate Project. View here.

Fact Sheet: Impact of USDA Investments to Protect and Sustain America's Water Supply
Over the past seven years, USDA has worked with private landowners to implement voluntary conservation practices that conserve and clean the water we drink. USDA support-leveraged with historic outside investments-boosts producer incomes and rewards them for their good work. At the same time, USDA investments have brought high quality water and waste services to rural communities, which are vital to their continued health and economic viability. View here.

USDA Announces Nearly $25 Million to Improve Water Quality in Southeast Iowa
USDA Rural Development is awarding a $24,995,000 direct loan to the city of Fairfield that will help rehabilitate the city's existing wastewater facility and bring it into compliance with Iowa Department of Natural Resources requirements. "The recent flooding in Iowa and other parts of the country has demonstrated just how important high-functioning wastewater systems are to our communities. Sanitary waste disposal systems and safe drinking water are vital not only to public health, but also to the economic vitality of rural America," U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said. View here.

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