Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Bringing Water Science to the People of Illinois

We’ve been neglecting the blog lately, which would be sad in and of itself, if it didn’t also mean that we have been out of the office doing vast amounts of outreach. What kinds of outreach, you say? We’re so glad you asked.

You may have noticed our many postings about the Drought Workshop at the Governor’s Conference on the Management of the Illinois River System. What you may not have noticed is that this workshop was developed because of outreach requirements on a research grant.  Last spring, Dr. Ximing Cai approached us with the idea of a drought workshop, because he was concerned that his research on forecasting and climate wasn’t reaching the people who needed it most, namely, farmers and water resources managers. Since the mission of the Illinois Water Resources Center is to bring watershed science to the people of Illinois, we were excited to help Dr. Cai reach a broader audience.  And we’re happy to report that we did host a broad audience. Members of Illinois’ agriculture, economics, and natural resources departments joined with researchers for the University of Illinois and the Prairie Research Institute to discuss what information they needed to help them do their jobs during droughts. Over 30 people attended the workshop, and this was during a partial federal government shutdown that kept three of our speakers at home. While we missed their input, it was encouraging to see how many people are interested in managing drought more effectively in Illinois. Stay tuned for a report and white paper on this topic to be published on our website.

The other task that’s been keeping us so busy (including talking about it in our sleep, by one report) is nutrient pollution. Illinois is home to an impressive agriculture scene and a lot of people, most of whom live in the Chicago area. These two factors mean that Illinois puts a lot of nitrogen and phosphorous into our waterways in the form of escaped fertilizer and treated wastewater. These nutrients eventually make their way down the Mississippi River and into the Gulf of Mexico, where they greatly contribute to the massive hypoxia, or dead, zones that have been appearing there for over 30 years. The State of Illinois is now working on reducing this form of pollution by developing a nutrient reduction strategy with the aid of a group of stakeholders. Led by the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency and the Illinois Department of Agriculture, the stakeholder group includes representative from wastewater treatment professionals, the agricultural community, and environmental groups, and has become large. Which is where we come in. Big groups require a lot of organization to make them run efficiently and still let everyone’s ideas and opinions be heard. Consequently, IWRC is facilitating the working group meetings to ensure that Illinois drafts a workable strategy to meaningfully reduce nutrient pollution in a way that addresses everyone’s concerns and includes the expertise of all the group members. As you can imagine, curating the content generated by nearly 50 people has taken a lot of work, but it promises to be a rewarding experience, and we hope to see the finished project next summer. For more information on the Nutrient Reduction Strategy, you can visit the IEPA website.

To round out our outreach efforts, we’ve also started preparing for Illinois Water 2014! If you have ideas of activities, sections, and events you’d like to see included, please contact us.