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We Are Water, Indeed : On the We Are Water MN Opening at the Institute on the Environment

There has always been a nice play on words within the We Are Water MN project—we are, in fact, largely water, as many people learn in biology class at some point.  But we are also, in important respects, the sum of our engagements with water.  Nearly everyone has a “water story,” or is attached to a particular body of water that is part of their core sense of themselves. The traveling exhibit We Are Water MN opened last Friday in the public space at the Institute on the Environment, and it is truly a landmark work. 

River Walks, We Are Water, and the University

One of the nice things about working on a campus that overlooks the Mississippi River is that it’s a very short walk to an overlook where the river is visible.  In our case, the whole trek to an overlook is about 100 yards, a block or so.  From there, it’s possible to walk either upstream or downstream (right or left) for changing river vistas, overlooks, or descents onto the flats at the water’s edge. We have used this location frequently over the years as a space from which to initiate programs, class trips, and the like.

“One Water” Framework, Integrating Water Work Across Sectors

River Life has long had an interest and focus on the Mississippi River, particularly that stretch of the river in the Twin Cities that serves as our “home river.”  For many and varied reasons, too long to go into in this post, we have recently begun seeing the Mississippi, both here and for its full length, as the heart of a water system that is central to the lives of everyone around it.  Seeing the “river” as “water,” while self-evident to many, has pointed our work in new directions, with new inquiries, sources, and conceptual frames for analysis and learning.

If the Water Debate is “the lake or the lawn?” can Science Provide an Answer?

In Minnesota, water is practically the “state element.”  Going “up to the lake” is a much-cherished tradition for many people who have lived here for generations.  The park systems in Minneapolis and St. Paul focus on lakes, creeks, and the Mississippi River. The state’s (official?) tagline is “Land of 10,000 Lakes.”  There are many more parts to this phenomenon, but you get the idea.

Water @ UMN

Welcome to Issue 10 of Open Rivers, which serves as a milestone in at least two ways. First, we have achieved “double digits” in terms of issues, which many publications never achieve. Thank you to the many, many people who have made the journal happen over the years. Second, this issue focuses at home, at the University of Minnesota, where the breadth of work on water is simply staggering. The number of faculty affiliated with Water Resources Sciences numbers well over 100, and it seems that water is becoming part of many of the University’s broad initiatives, such as Grand Challenges Research and MnDrive. This is truly an exciting time to be researching, teaching, and learning about water at the University of Minnesota!

How Do We See Rivers? “River Reveal” Offers New Perspectives

“How do we see rivers” is one of these deceptive questions: seemingly simple, bound up in cultural traditions and threads that we may be unaware of (depending on who we mean by “we”), but actually much more complicated than it appears. Figures 1 and 2, taken in the Twin Cities nearly a decade apart, show the “classic landscape” approach to photographing rivers.  The vantage point is from a high point, looking down and across a mid ground that is interesting, and often contains the river object of the photograph.

Women Writing About Water

Last week, in response to a Twitter post by writer and editor Sarah Boon, I posted a query about possibly compiling a list of books on water authored by women.  Boon’s list was about women writing on the West, so the segue seemed natural.

The response was phenomenal—maybe the first time anything I’ve written has “gone viral.”  There were lots of suggested titles, authors, and much back and forth as contributors consulted their bookshelves, recollected titles read long ago, and compared this list to other book lists created recently.

Mississippi River Gorge - Endangered

It’s been written here before: the University of Minnesota has a responsibility to its place, in the homeland of Dakota people, within the boundaries of a National Park, and on the banks of one of the world’s great rivers.  This week, the Mississippi River Gorge, including that stretch of the river that flows past the University campus, was listed in the “Most Endangered Rivers” list created annually by American Rivers.

What does it mean, that the gorge stretch of the Mississippi is “endangered”?

Resilience: The “New Sustainability” or Something More?

Our program’s web site home page offers that the University of Minnesota “is a model for developing future-oriented, resilient relationships between communities and water.”  That statement begs the question, though: What exactly is, or might be, a “resilient” relationship between water and community.

Since the 1990s, at least, there has been a buzz about “sustainability.”  The term has become so common, and is used so indiscriminately, that many have begun to wonder if it actually means anything substantive at all anymore.  Several years ago, “resilience” started to pop up in discussions about human-environmental system interaction. As the term gained currency, people began to ask if it was becoming a bland, over-used term, much as “sustainability” had become.

Freshwater Stories

Both the topic of water and the medium of stories are having a “moment” right now.  The water conversations across professional sectors are rich, and becoming more inclusive.  The use of the term “story” as a means of organizing and sharing knowledge is likewise growing, both in campus venues and in the broader public.

Which is why the program Freshwater Stories has such promise.  A product of the Freshwater Lab at the University of Illinois Chicago, this particular program focuses attention on the Great Lakes as a lens through which we can understand our multiple engagements with water, across nearly every facet of our lives.