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January 2018 Newsletter 
North Central Region Water Network
Extension-led, community-driven outreach and education
Director's Update

The Strange Case of Rattlesnake Ridge

There are few things that are certain in life, big or small. Big like the stock market, trade deals, and ele ctions. Small like, well . . . that all depends on your perspective. A change in a school schedule, a bus route, or the weather can be huge if your family schedule or your way of making a living depends on it. Here in the Midwest, the rolling hills and wide plains, sculpted by glaciers, water, and wind, are one of the few items that fall into the pretty darn reliable category. When we wake up in the morning and look out the window, the leaves on the trees chang color, the corn grows higher and then it's gone, the cattle slowly chase the best forage in the pasture, but the landform i s essentially the same.
For the 6,000+ residents of Union Gap, Washington State, the land is changing beneath their feet - or rather over their heads. In October 2017, they learned that a   20-acre chunk of Rattlesnake Ridge, a large bluff overlooking the town, was headed in their direction at the rate of 2.5 inches per day, or over a foot a week. While this landslide is bad news for Union Gap, knowing about it ahead of time is far better than the prospect of being buried by an amount of land that would fill Lake Mendota (a lake just north of the UW-Madison campus) over 6,000 times. The warning has allowed people time to evacuate and given scientists a chance to study the ridge's movement as gravity propels it downward.
This luxury of time is unfortunately rare where landslides are concerned, leading to thousands of deaths annually and substantial loss of property worldwide. For many water-related issues, the slow pace of change is both a blessing and a curse. Whether it's the slow leak of nutrients into lakes and streams, the steady march of pavement across the landscape leading to increasing runoff volumes, or the aging of water infrastructure, there is an underlying pattern: a slow decrease in stability triggering event, collapse - or at least overwhelming damage.
The relatively slow pace of changes in water supply and quality are tough for people to comprehend and manage. Our wiring for long-term thinking is there, but it can be overwhelmed by signals that seem, and perhaps are, more urgent. Big urgent things like passing a federal budget, and small(ish) urgent things like waking up to no hot water this morning and needing to trouble-shoot (thankfully, just a tripped GFI outlet in the basement) can overpower longer-term things like sufficient funding for agriculture and water quality research and outreach or water infrastructure.
Fortunately, like the case of Union Gap and Rattlesnake Ridge, we often have early warnings of potential system failures, failures that can have catastrophic and expensive consequences. Lake systems, river systems, drinking water systems, and urban stormwater management systems all send signals that something needs to change. Sometimes these signals are detected by scientists with big grants and expensive monitoring equipment. Sometimes they are detected by local anglers who notice changes in fish habitat quality, or a homeowner whose basement floods every year instead of every ten. These signals inform management and outreach efforts like  Kara Salazar's work as a Sustainable Communities Extension Specialist for Purdue University's Department of Forestry and Natural Resources and Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant. While we know that  large-scale water infrastructure improvements are essential, the  Purdue Rainscaping Education Program reminds us that we all have a vital role to play in water stewardship. Small water infrastructure projects can make a big difference when placed strategically and with enough participants.
In addition to reducing stormwater runoff volume by over 170,000 gallons a year, rainscaping projects like Salazar's and similar projects that engage citizens are helping combat the kind of social challenges that arise from what Daniel Kahneman and Glen Klein (2009) call a world of "fractionated expertise." These projects bring people with different backgrounds and skill sets together around common goals. When we bring water stewardship back into the community, we learn new things about the places we live and work and we learn about each other. Perhaps we learn to trust one another just a little bit more - a seemingly small change that is a big win in today's world. These are the kinds of changes that Extension educators and other local leaders are working toward every day. They are improving our water and renewing community relationships essential for long-term certainty and stability - something we could all use a little more of these days.


Rebecca Power, Network Director

Kahneman, D., & Klein, G. (2009). Conditions for intuitive expertise: A failure to disagree. American Psychologist, 64 (6), 515-526.
Calling all Extension Personnel: The North Central Region Water Network recently posted our 2018 Request for Applications

This year's Capacity Building Mini-Grants are focused on smaller-scale proposals as well as a special call for applications related to Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs). HAB-related proposals are eligible to receive up to $20,000 in funding. The NCRWN is partnering with the Water Resource Research Institutes in the region on the HAB priority and look forward to collaborating on this important issue.

Lead applicants must have an Extension appointment/assignment at a land-grant institution in the North Central Region. Lead applicants may enlist co-applicants and partners from other institutions and organizations. We strongly encourage engagement of 1890 and 1994 land-grant institutions, as well as federally designated Hispanic Serving Institutions within the region.  Applications are due March 15, 2018. Visit our website for more information.
Network Initiative Spotlight 
Visit our  Network Initiative page for more information on current and previous initiatives, and future funding opportunities. 
Empowering Educators to Improve Water Quality through Soil Health

Soil health is critically linked to issues such as nutrient losses to surface water, climate change, eros ion, and ultimately farm profitability. The benefits of healthy soil are key in mitigating  extreme wet and drought events (Al-Kaisi et al., 2013). 

While the relationship between soil health and water quality is well recognized, many conventional farmers are not adopting soil health practices at a rapid pace. Some don't feel that improving soil health will improve their bottom line, some are unwilling to make changes to improve the ability of their fields to mitigate climate variability or protect water resources, and more still have tried a few practices and given up after the first few years. Moreover, many Extension educators, Soil and Water Conservation District staff and Certified Crop Advisers don't have advanced knowledge, training, or tools to assist these farmers in addressing soil health.

Land-grant university researchers are producing a growing body of applied research that can equip these professionals on how to have a positive impact on crop and livestock producers relating to soil health improvement. The Soil Health Nexus team is committed to ensuring this science and advice gets in the hands of the farmers, farm advisers, and agriculture and food industry personnel who need it.

The Soil Health Nexus is one of two Impact 2020 initiatives funded through the North Central Region Water Network over the next two years. And the team is hard at work increasing regional access to soil health research, knowledge, extension, and resources.
Recently, the team debuted the Soil Health Nexus website dedicated to soil health communications within the region, developed comprehensive reports summarizing and drawing conclusions from existing soil health science and databases ( example here), and has been writing monthly blogs to help discuss, connect, and distribute pertinent soil health information.

Last month the team gathered before the National Conference on Cover Crops and Soil Health in Indianapolis to set the stage for their work moving forward. The team is setting out to accomplish four objectives in 2018 and 2019: characterize the obstacles and challenges encountered by growers and agribusiness stakeholders in adopting soil heath practices, develop an educator/adviser toolkit of soil health educational resources, develop educator capacity through professional development workshops, and facilitate implementation of on-farm research and soil health demonstrations and citizen science initiatives. While these are ambitious goals, the soil health nexus has a strong team that is poised to build off their past success and reach new heights.

Al-Kaisi, M., R.W. Elmore, J.G. Guzman, H.M. Hanna, C.E. Hart, M.J. Helmers, E.W. Hodgson, A.W. Lenssen, A.P. Mallarino, A.E. Robertson, and J.E. Sawyer. 2013. Drought impact on crop production and soil environment: 2012 experience from Iowa. Soil and Water Cons. J. 68(1):19-24.

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Leadership Spotlight

Each month we call attention to a significant state-led project and associated leadership within 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. 

Diverting Runoff One Garden at a Time

As part of Kara Salazar's work  as Sustainable Communities Extension Specialist for Purdue University's Department of Forestry and Natural Resources and Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant , she runs the Sustainable Communities Extension Program. The program works to support community planning and sustainable community development strategies for communities across Indiana. One of the program initiatives is the Purdue Rainscaping Education Program which works to educate communities about sustainable landscape practices that can prevent polluted runoff.

The Purdue Rainscaping Education Program, which Salazar co-chairs, formed in 2013. The team provides advanced training for Purdue Master Gardeners, conservation agencies and organizations, stormwater professionals, and landscape companies and consultants on installing rain gardens in residential settings or small-scale public spaces. Salazar, along with fellow co-chair John Orick, state coordinator of the Purdue Master Gardner Program, and core team members Laura Esman, Jane Frankenberger, Rosie Lerner and Kris Medic, developed and pilot tested a series of 15-hour rainscaping workshops in 2015 and 2016. The workshops use the flipped classroom technique, in which participants are asked to watch videos on each topic before the in-person training. During the in-person workshop, participants engage in interactive activities and discussions, visit community rainscaping projects to deepen their learning, and even create a demonstration rain garden alongside community partners. 
Through the pilot, team members' extensive evaluation, and a peer review, the team is continuously working to improve the program. In 2017, the team conducted a train-the-trainer workshop for Extension staff. Attendees participated in introductory webinars before attending an all-day training where they participated in hands-on exercises and group discussions, and planted a demonstration rain garden alongside team members. After the training, each participant received a host guide for conducting workshops independently throughout the state, with resources, videos, and a comprehensive participant curriculum.

Since 2015, Salazar, Orick, and the rest of the Rainscaping Education Team have held four programs with nearly 100 participants and created four demonstration rain gardens.  Moreover, many participants have gone on to install rain gardens, conduct tours and community education programs, or host exhibitor booths on the sustainable landscape practices in their communities. Indeed, in 2018 Extension staff trained in the 2017 train-the-trainer workshop will be hosting five community programs throughout the state alongside Rainscaping Education Team members.
Last year the team received the Purdue Cooperative Extension Specialists' Association Team Award for their efforts. However, according to Salazar the best part is knowing they are making a difference. "The rain gardens installed through the program have the capacity to reduce runoff by over 170,000 gallons a year. Seeing that number and hearing that people are really enjoying the program and planning to implement more projects in their communities - that's the best part."
Kara Salazar, Purdue Extension and Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant
Kara Salazar is Sustainable Communities Extension Specialist for Purdue University's Department of Forestry and Natural Resources and Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant. Working with multidisciplinary teams, Kara develops programs, products, and resources to support community planning and sustainable development strategies in Indiana communities. Focus areas include placemaking and enhancing public spaces, landscaping conservation practices, community development, and natural resources management. 
Kara has a B.S. in public affairs and environmental science and a M.P.A. in natural resources management and nonprofit management from the Indiana University School of Public and Environmental Affairs. She also received a M.S.Ed. degree from the IU School of Education at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) with concentrations in community building and science education. She is c urrently pursuing a PhD in Natural Resources Social Science in the Department of Forestry and Natural Resources at Purdue University while continuing to work in her full time Extension position. Kara is a certified planner (AICP) and a Professional Community and Economic Developer (PCED) with additional credentials including a certificate in Fundraising Management and LEED AP Neighborhood Development. Kara serves as a governor appointed member of the Indiana Land Resources Council, and as a member of the Purdue Land Use Team, and the Community Planning and Zoning eXtension Community of Practice.

Hypoxia Task Force Winter Public Meeting and Webcast
February 1, 2018
Join the Hypoxia Task Force in person or via webcast for a public meeting addressing the progress of the team's work. The team will be reporting on the progress of implementing state nutrient strategies, updating the tracking progress recorded through varying measures, and presenting a report from SERA-46 on updated priorities for collaboration and outcomes.

2018 Illinois Crop Management Conference
February 8, 2018
The Illinois Crop Management Conference  provides a forum for discussion and interaction between participants and University researchers regarding current crop issues.  
Midwest Soil Health Summit
February 14-15, 2018
The Sustainable Farming Association will be holding the Midwest Soil Health Summit in February to discuss the stories and science of soil health. Speakers range from  renowned  soil scientists to USDA soil health experts.  

Mitchell Soil Health Event
February 15, 2018
South Dakota State University Extension will be hosting their eighth annual Mitchell Soil Health Event that will feature presentations from South Dakota State University, North Dakota State University, and University of Nebraska Extension professionals. Cronin Farms agronomist and lead speaker, Dan Forgey, will be present  "A Farmers Perspective on Soil Health."
Wisconsin Cover Crop Conference 
February 27, 2018
The 2018 Wisconsin Cover Crop Conference is a statewide event for farmers to hear from cover crop experts and experienced farmers about how to successfully integrate cover crops into Wisconsin's unique cropping rotations and climate.  

Do you know of an upcoming water or conservation event in the Midwest? Add it to the NCRWN website here
Funding and Other Opportunities
Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program (BFRDP)
Beginning farmer education for adult and young audiences in the United States can generally be traced back to the advent of the 1862 and 1890 Morrill Land Grant Acts. But for the first time, the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008 (Pub .L. No. 110-234, Section 7410) appropriated $75 million for FY 2009 to FY 2012 to develop and offer education, training, outreach and mentoring programs to enhance the sustainability of the next generation of farmers. The Agriculture Act of 2014 provided an additional $20 million per year for 2014 through 2018. The reasons for the renewed interest in beginning farmer and rancher programs are as follows: the rising average age of U.S. farmers; the 8% projected decrease in the number of farmers and ranchers between 2008 and 2018; and the growing recognition that new programs are needed to address the needs of the next generation of beginning farmers and ranchers.  

Applications are due by February 8, 2018.  Learn more.

EPA Local Environmental Education Grants
Under the 2018 EE Local Grant Program, 10 Requests for Proposals are being issued nationally, one in each of EPA's ten Regions. EPA expects to award three or four grants from each of the EPA's 10 Regional Offices for a total of approximately 30 to 35 grants nationwide. The purpose of the EE Local Grants Program is to support locally-funded, local environmental education projects that increase public awareness and knowledge about conservation issues and provide skills that participants in its funded projects need to make informed decisions and take responsible action towards the environment.

Applications are due March 15, 2018. Learn more.

North Central Region Water Network 2018 Request for Applications 
This year's Capacity Building Mini-Grants are focused on smaller-scale proposals as well as a special call for applications related to Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs). HAB-related proposals are eligible for up to $20,000 in funding. The NCRWN is partnering with the Water Resource Research Institutes in the region on the HAB priority and look forward to collaborating on this important issue.

Lead applicants must have an Extension appointment/assignment at a land-grant institution in the North Central Region. Lead applicants may enlist co-applicants and partners from other institutions and organizations. We strongly encourage engagement of 1890 and 1994 land-grant institutions, as well as federally designated Hispanic Serving Institutions within the region.

Request for Applications due March 15, 2018.  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 sponsor this series to highlight the best water-related research and Extension programming in the region. Webinars run for 60 minutes, with 30-minute project snapshots and 30 minutes of QA/peer-to-peer interaction.

Next Webinar:

February 14, 2018 at 2PM CST, The Current 34: Manure, Water, and Soil Health

This webinar will review reports recently developed by the Soil Health Nexus team summarizing outputs and drawing conclusions from soil health research and existing soil health databases.  Discussion will also focus on the resources in place through the Soil Health Nexus and what resources and tools the team is working on developing in the coming year.

Most Recent Webinar: 

November 8, 2017, The Current 33: Conservation Practice Tracking for the Mississippi River Basin

This webinar provided an overview of conservation and water quality tracking across the Mississippi and Atchafalaya River Basin (MARB). Discussion focused on the overall need for tracking and what is being done on the state and regional level. Speakers included:
  • Katie Flahive, Agricultural Engineer, Clean Water Act Section 319 Nonpoint Source Management Program, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
  • Julie Harrold, Program Manager Water Quality Initiatives, Division of Soil Conservation, Indiana State Department of Agriculture
  • Reid D. Christianson, Research Assistant Professor, Department of Crop Sciences, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign


Useful to Usable projec team awarded Indiana's  Governor's Award for Environmental Excellence
The multi-university Useful to Usable team, which previously received a Partnership Award from  USDA -NIFA, was selected by the Indiana Department of Environmental Management for the Governor's Award for Environmental Excellence. The team worked to make  climate  information more usable for producers in the Corn Belt and developed climate-based decision support tools and resources to assist farmers and agricultural advisers in their planning, purchasing, and marketing. Learn more. 

Research associates bird deaths in Lake Michigan with warmer water, more algae
New research suggests warmer water in Lake Michigan could mean more bird deaths along the shoreline. The study by the University of Wisconsin-Madison and U.S. Geological Survey found warmer water could favor the growth of algae with toxins that are killing off birds. Learn more.

New study shows producers where and how to grow cellulosic biofuel crops
According to a recent ruling by the United States Environmental Protection Agency, 288 million gallons of cellulosic biofuel must be blended into the U.S. gasoline supply in 2018.  A new multi-institution report provides practical agronomic data for five cellulosic feedstocks, which could improve adoption and increase production across the country.  Learn more.

New UNL resource available for identifying grass weeds in crops
A new Nebraska Extension publication,  Identification of Grass Weeds Commonly Found in Agronomic Crops in Nebraska, EC3020, offers general diagrams of grassy plant structures and information on life cycle, habitat, flowering period, and distinguishing features of 12 grasses common to Nebraska fields, along with photos of key identifying features for each grass.  Learn more.

Corn yield and soybean production up in 2017, USDA reports
Across the Midwest, a lack of extreme heat helped boost the nation's corn yield to its highest level on record - slightly above 2016. The nation's soybean yield was down 6 percent from 2016, but production reached a record level due to record high acreage, according to the Crop. Learn more.
Our Mission:

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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