Experts are collaborating across Minnesota to combine water research.
With the nickname “The Land of 10,000 Lakes,” it’s no surprise that water is one of Minnesota’s most important natural resources.
In 2016, former University Vice President for Research Brian Herman formed the Water Council to bring together researchers and water resource specialists across the university system to address concerns about drinking water. About fifteen people are elected or appointed from among the water units to be members of the Water Council.
The Water Council reports to the University’s Research Office. In return, the University’s Research Office attends Water Council meetings and identifies major topics of interest across the University, such as pollution and water quality issues. This office provides the framework in which university researchers can work and accomplish tasks.
In 2019, the University Water Council did an inventory which found that 272 people in the university system specialize in some type of water research.
âIt was spread out across the state, which was a clear indication that we wanted the whole to be greater than the sum of the parts,â said Jeffery Peterson, director of the University Water Resources Center.
âWe had the potential to create an infrastructure that would allow all of these different people to find each other,â said Peterson.
Despite the start of the pandemic in 2020, the Water Council formed the virtual water network, creating opportunities for water specialists to collaborate from different locations of the facilities and institutions of the university system and of the extension of the University of Minnesota. Membership in the network is self-selected and voluntary.
The virtual framework of the network worked well, as it reduced the distances which allowed for timely collaboration and participation in events such as water fountains or water circles.
Water fountains are meetings without a proposed topic, but thematic water fountains allow academics to come up with a topic for discussion. Water circles can also be formed if members wish to have a series of discussions on a topic.
Robert Sterner, member of the Water Council and Director of the Great Lakes Observatory at the University of Minnesota – Duluth, said “We needed to create a way for the University’s water researchers to find each other. , collaborate and come together in new ways. “
The Great Lakes Observatory conducts scientific surveys of large lakes that are highly specialized, requiring oceanography and more typical science dealing with freshwater resources.
The Observatory is one of many interdisciplinary scientific studies across the university system, with water research working groups at the Institute on the Environment, St. Anthony Falls Laboratory, Minnesota Aquatic Invasive Species Research Center and many others.
Sterner hopes these working groups will result in major grant proposals, new initiatives, academic papers, or new ways of thinking.
âIt would be great for the network to create a structure including workshops and training for graduate students, which could provide a beneficial framework,â said Sterner.
Peterson added that the Water Council will continue to meet regularly and continue to discuss how to improve communications, coordination and create more committees.