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Water at Minnesota

October 28, 2014Patrick NunnallyFormer Featured PostsComments Off on Water at Minnesota

We’ve made the case here before that Minnesota is a water rich state, so it was nice to hear the concept confirmed by Prof. Deborah Swackhamer at last week’s Frontiers on the Environment program.  She said that Minnesota is the most water rich state in the country, but that we face a legion of problems that, if not addressed, will cause a great deal of anxiety in the not too distant future.

Click the link above to see more of the program and Swackhamer’s sobering assessment of what it will take for Minnesota to have a sustainable water future.

Fortunately the University of Minnesota is well stocked with water specialists across the disciplinary and professional spectrum.  At the Duluth campus, the Large Lake Observatory is undertaking groundbreaking research on Lake Superior, the largest body of freshwater in the world.

The University boasts of a very well-regarded Water Resources Science graduate program, including faculty from across the university’s graduate and professional schools.  The Water Resource Center has been an important participant in numerous statewide water policy discussions.

Contributions outside the scientific disciplines are of more recent vintage.  Assistant Professor Matt Tucker, of the Landscape Architecture department, develops student thinking and design expertise to face coming paradigm shifts in how urban water is managed.  River Life, our program, is central to the Mellon Foundation-supported John E. Sawyer Seminar, which is exploring new narratives and images to express our relationship to the Mississippi River in an age of climate change.

But the whole isn’t yet greater than the sum of the parts, and collaborating across colleges and disciplines is difficult.  The University’s recently-completed strategic planning effort has identified challenges associated with water as an example of the kinds of “grand challenges’ that the University should turn its teaching, research, and engagement programs to address.  Not surprisingly, we have some ideas for how this might be achieved.  It’s important to continue to reward and encourage ongoing substantial efforts that solve big problems, such as the research on Lake Superior described above.  But it’s more important to supplement existing work by:

  • devising ways for scientists to collaborate with faculty in other arenas as well as community partners in turning scientific data into solutions for current and future challenges;
  • developing inventories of who is doing what sorts of work at the University, and promoting those inventories (rosters, libraries, whatever they are called) to campus and community partners who can benefit and support that work.  We can’t collaborate if we don’t know who’s doing what.
  • hosting knowledge exchange forums featuring specialists from a variety of disciplines and practices.  Once we know of each others’ work, and have been able to “put a face to a name,” then collaboration can start.

There are many other possible ways to bring together the University’s strengths in water-oriented research, programs, and teaching.  Sustained, deliberate effort to break down the siloes of academic specialization is essential, though, for the University to serve the state, region, and broader reaches that will be facing water challenges in the coming decades.

 

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