June   2015 Newsletter 
North Central Region Water Network
Extension-led, community-driven outreach and education
Director's Update


This month I had the privilege of visiting the University of Nebraska-Lincoln to learn more about the rich diversity of extension and research that UNL is bringing to Nebraskans and beyond. UNL's programs include agricultural irrigation management, precision nutrient management, urban stormwater management, and growing a new generation of engaged, informed citizens to name a few. Diversity can strengthen resilience of an existing system. It can also be the raw material for positive change. UNL educators and specialists wisely build upon the strong foundations of tradition and bring in the best new knowledge and tools to move us toward a more sustainable future. Learn more about UNL's water extension and research at


Tom Scherer's article in this month's newsletter also illustrates both values of diversity for the North Central Region. North Dakota State University has talented specialists working on tile drainage and other agricultural management practices to help farmers maintain health, productive soils and while keeping nutrients on the field and out of lakes, streams and ground water. NDSU regularly partners with other states to make sure the best information is available to more people when they need it most. For more information on North Dakota resources for water and agriculture, here are a few sites to check out:, and


And two other important items:
  • For all you Extension folks out there, remember that the North Central Region Water Network's second 2015 Request for Applications is waiting for you! $100,000 in seed funding available. Applications due August 14, 2015!
  • SAVE THE DATE! The North Central Region Water Network's second conference and regional working session will be March 21-23, 2016 in Lincoln, NE.  Theme: "From Science To Success". More details coming soon!



Rebecca Power, Network Director


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Network Initiatives
For the next several months we will take a closer look at the 2014 & 2015 initiatives. For more information on these, visit our  Network Initiatives Page.

Integrating Volunteer Nutrient Monitoring and Outreach With Extension Across States

Volunteer water monitoring educates and engages citizens about natural resources in local communities. Data collected through these citizen science programs allows for quantification and assessment of nutrients and their impacts to water that result from land use and development practices. However, there is often a disconnect between these monitoring programs and Extension educators working in communities. Thus, these results are often underutilized.

The goal is to conduct an inventory of outreach materials and programs currently in use by Extension and partner organizations related to nutrients and water quality across the five states; and develop a larger grant proposal with ultimate goals to: enable cross-state volunteer nutrient data sharing; to develop uniform cyanobacteria toxin monitoring methods; to develop educational materials and associated programs for use by Extension educators across participating states; and to carry out train-the-trainer workshops to bring these resources to Extension educators.

Intended Impacts
  • Increased knowledge across participating states of Extension agriculture and natural resource educators, both within Extension and across volunteer water monitoring programs
  • Increased knowledge of volunteer monitoring programs by both other volunteer monitoring programs and by Extension and the North Central Region Water Network
  • Increased knowledge across participating states of existing educational outreach materials and programs related to nutrients and resulting impacts on waters.

Project Contacts:


Kristine Stepenuck

Ph.D., University of Wisconsin-Extension

(608) 265-3887

Leadership Spotlight: North Dakota State University
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. 

Subsurface Drainage Research and Education in the Upper Great Plains


Since 1993, the upper Great Plains has experienced what the climatologist's call "a wet cycle." The upper Great Plains encompass North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota and the Canadian provinces of Manitoba and Saskatchewan. Some of the effects of the increased precipitation are higher water levels in lakes and other water bodies, increased flooding conditions and higher ground water levels.

Higher ground water levels in farmers fields has resulted in many acres of saturated soil that resulted in lost crops and loss of productive farmland due to increased salinity. These conditions created a demand for information on a new technology for this area; subsurface drainage often called "tile drainage." Since 2001, well over 200,000 acres of land has had tile installed in the 3-state area.

For the past 15 years, the Extension Services of North Dakota State University, the University of Minnesota and South Dakota State University have been cooperatively conducting subsurface (tile) drainage workshops, seminars, tours, field days and presentations at various locations in the region. To complement the Extension program, since 2007 many tile drainage research projects have been initiated, some on controlled plots at experiment stations and many on farmer's fields.

Extension and Outreach

Since 2001, there have been many Extension education events held in the 3-state area. Here is a partial listing of some of the activities:

  • In a cooperative effort between NDSU, SDSU and the U of M, multiple two-day tile drainage design schools have been held in the three states every year. Over 1300 farmers, crop consultants, tile company employees and government agency personnel have been trained in the basics of tile drainage design and management. Over 100 of the participants were from Canada. Water control and alternative methods of controlling high water tables such as controlled drainage and cover crops have been a part of the training from the first workshop in 2001.
  • Several single-day tile drainage forums attracted around 175 participants to each. The audience included a range of people with interest in this topic from students to politicians to board members of soil and water conservation districts.
  • Participation by Extension specialists and researchers on local and state technical advisory committees has resulted in changes to tile drainage laws in North Dakota and South Dakota.
  • Contributed to the drainage water management (DWM) training for Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) personnel mentioned by Chris Hay in the December 2014 issue of this newsletter.
  • A cooperative tile water quality sampling project, funded by the EPA 319 program, involved NDSU Extension water quality personnel and eight county soil conservation districts in North Dakota was recently completed. The results from the four-year project have provided much needed baseline information on the water quality of tile water from farm fields.

Research Projects

Much of the upper great plains west of the Red River contain salt and/or sodium affected soils. We have not been able to find much documentation in peer-reviewed journals on the interaction of subsurface drainage and saline soils in a rain fed environment. Consequently, many concerns have been raised about the impact of tile drainage on these soil properties and the impact of tile water quality on receiving streams. Several research projects have been initiated to provide answers to these concerns and here is a partial list.

  • Research sites were established at Waseca, Crookston and Brooks Minnesota to evaluate depth, spacing and other tile design criteria.
  • On the North Dakota State University campus 17 acres of research plots used for disease research were tiled with controlled drainage. In another part of the experiment station, 8 one-acre controlled drainage plots were installed to study the impact and economics of tile versus non-tiled salt affected soils.
  • In 2014 about 20 acres of tiled plots were installed at the Research Extension Center at Langdon North Dakota. The plots are located on saline and sodium affects soils with controlled drainage. The plots include 3 tiled areas for replicated research along with Extension demonstration plots. All plots have control structures to regulate water tables in the plots.
  • Since 2007, two farmers have cooperated with NDSU researchers to study the impact of tile drainage on farm fields. One site is located near Fairmount North Dakota where the farmer has lift stations and irrigation wells to evaluate both controlled drainage and subirrigation. The other site is located near Kragnes Minnesota where access to fields with no tile, gravity flow from tile, controlled drainage and a combination of controlled drainage and subirrigation allow comparisons of crop production, water quality and subirrigation management to be studied.
  • A research grant from the NRCS Conservation Innovation Grants program is funding research on sodium affects soils in North and South Dakota. Each state has 2 research plots located on farm fields. Part of the research concerns remediation of sodium affected soils.
  • The research sites have been established in South Dakota to evaluate the effectiveness of edge-of-field bioreactors to limit the amount of nitrate in tile water.

It appears the installation of tile drainage in this area will not subside but may increase so education and research will be ongoing and needed for years to come.

Tom Scherer
North Dakota State University, Extension Agricultural Engineer
Raised on a dairy farm in central Minnesota, he obtained Bachelor's, Masters and Ph.D. degrees in Agricultural Engineering from the University of Minnesota. 
From 1980 to 1983 he worked for the State of Minnesota as a public health engineer and between 1987 to 1991 he was an assistant professor and irrigation specialist with the University of Arizona.


In 1991, he began working for the NDSU Extension Service. He is responsible for leadership and development of statewide educational programs involving irrigation systems and management, onsite wastewater (septic) systems, private water delivery and treatment systems, drainage, and water resource management.
The Current Webinar Series
Our  w ebinar series is your connection to our Network and water outreach, research and collaboration efforts across the North Central Region. Designed for busy working professionals like yourself, the webinars are only an hour and won't take up much space on your calendar. We hope you will join the conversation. 

Please visit our webinar overview page for details on upcoming and past webinars. 

The Current Webinar 10: Harmful Algal Blooms 
July 15, 2015 2:00 p.m.-3:00 p.m. CT
  • Chris Winslow, Interim Director, Ohio Sea Grant College Program: 
    Harmful Algal Blooms:   What are they? Where do they come from? What are we doing in HAB research?
  • Greg LaBarge, Ohio State University Extension:  OSU Nutrient Management Outreach Education Programs Addressing Harmful Algal Blooms in Lake Erie
  • Sonia Joseph Joshi, Center for Excellence for Great Lakes and Human Health, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration:  NOAA's Harmful Algal Bloom Forecasting Products
Past Webinars:
If you happened to miss one of our webinars in 2014 or 2015, be sure to visit our webinar archive page to get caught up on the latest from our Network. You can also view these by going directly to our NEW NCRWN YouTube Page.   Thank you!

2015 Annual Soil and Water Conservation Society Conference
Greensboro, North Carolina: July 26, 2015-July 29, 2015
The 70th Annual Soil and Water Conservation Society (SWCS) Conference will provide a forum to celebrate past conservation accomplishments as well as share and promote science-based knowledge on critical, current issues facing soil, water, and environmental sustainability. Learn more here.

SAVE THE DATE! NCRWN Conference 2016   
"From Science to Success"
Lincoln, Nebraska: March 21-23, 2016
Save the date for the North Central Region Water Network's 2016 Conference "From Science to Success". Check back for details here.
Funding Opportunities

USDA NRCS: Regional Conservation Partnership Program

Deadlines: Pre-proposals are due July 8, 2015

RCPP "promotes coordination between NRCS and its partners to deliver conservation assistance to producers and landowners." RCPP combines the authorities of four former conservation programs - the Agricultural Water Enhancement Program, the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Program, the Cooperative Conservation Partnership Initiative and the Great Lakes Basin Program. Assistance is delivered in accordance with the rules of EQIP, CSP, ACEP and HFRP; and in certain areas the Watershed Operations and Flood Prevention Program. More info.


McKnight Foundation - Mississippi River Program

August 1 for November consideration,  November 1 for February consideration

The McKnight Foundation, a Minnesota-based family foundation, seeks to improve the quality of life for present and future generations. Through grant making, collaboration, and encouragement of strategic policy reform, we use our resources to attend, unite, and empower those we serve.  More info

In Case You Missed it...
The Current Webinar 9:
 Application of Cover Crops in the Midwestern U.S.
  • Dr. Dean Baas, Senior Research Associate, Michigan State University Extension: The Midwest Cover Crops Council -A regional collaboration that works
  • Dr. Tom Kaspar, Plant Physiologist, USDA-ARS, National Laboratory for Agriculture and the Environment: Effect of cover crops on nitrogen in tile drainage
  • Dr. Matt Ruark, Assistant Professor and Extension Soil Scientist, University of Wisconsin-Madison: Cover crops after fall manure application 

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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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