Category Archives: Press Release

Study: Groundwater contamination in SE MinnesotaFarm field in Minnesota

Conversion of grasslands to agricultural fields across Southeastern Minnesota is increasing groundwater nitrate contamination in private drinking water wells according to a new study by researchers with the University of Minnesota and the Natural Capital Project.

Writing in the journal Environmental Research Letters, the researchers outline the economic costs associated with groundwater pollution along with threats to overall water quality and ecosystem services.

“Households can dig a new well, purchase bottled water, or install a home nitrate-removal system, but dealing with a contaminated well is expensive and these costs are typically born entirely by private households,” said Bonnie Keeler, lead author and lead scientist with the Natural Capital Project at the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment. “We found evidence that recent trends in grassland loss to agriculture between 2007 and 2012 are likely to increase the future number of contaminated wells by 45%, leading to millions of dollars in lost income and remediation costs for private households.”

The analysis focuses on eleven counties in Southeastern Minnesota — a region classified as highly vulnerable to groundwater contamination and having one of the highest rates of recent grassland conversion to agriculture in the state, but the results can also be extrapolated to regions across the Midwest U.S. undergoing rapid land conversion.

The researchers used publicly available well data and nitrate chemistry readings to predict how changes in land use will affect the likelihood of well contamination.  The team also discovered a significant relationship between high-nitrate wells and nearby agricultural lands.  Using this relationship, along with other soil and geologic information and well characteristics, they created a model that could be used to evaluate how recent trends in grassland loss to agriculture may affect the future number of contaminated wells in the region.

Steve Polasky, Fesler Lampert Professor of Ecological/ Environmental Economics and an Institute on the Environment Resident Fellow co-authored this recent paper.

The Natural Capital Project is a partnership combining research innovation at the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment and Stanford University with the global reach of conservation science and policy at The Nature Conservancy and the World Wildlife Fund.

Acara teams make Minnesota Cup semifinalsMighty Axe Hops Hub

Four teams with roots in the Institute on the Environment’s Acara program have advanced to the semifinals in the 10th annual Minnesota Cup, the state’s largest venture competition.

Acara is a social entrepreneurship program that helps University of Minnesota students develop impact ventures that address societal and environmental challenges through courses, workshops and field experiences.

The four Acara-based social ventures were chosen from a pool of 1,300 and will be competing against 66 other teams for up to $30,000 in seed money for their start-ups. The ventures are:

  • MyRain – supplies drip irrigation systems to small-plot farmers in India
  • Pragati Palms – markets sustainably sourced Indian artisan crafts
  • Mighty Axe – grows Minnesota hops for local brewers
  • BDW Technologies –  is instituting a process for genetically engineering probiotic bacteria to counteract infection in farm animals.

In addition, IonE managing director and chief operating officer Lewis Gilbert has been advising another finalist, Kate Thompson of Ground Truth Collaborative.

Learn more about the Minnesota Cup and the semifinalists here.

Photo: Matthew Wildenauer

Ellen Anderson named executive director of energy labWind Turbines for Energy Transition Lab

Our energy system is in the midst of a major transition. Our power sources are shifting from coal to more natural gas and renewables. We need to upgrade our aging grid to accommodate those new sources. As our grid becomes “smarter,” we need it to be responsive and reliable. And new greenhouse gas emissions regulations and the need to make our grid resilient as the climate changes add further complexities.

This energy transition has the potential to spark innovation in business and the public sector, leading to new jobs and better outcomes for the community and our environment. Reaching that potential requires strong leadership. To provide that leadership, the University of Minnesota is launching the Energy Transition Lab with former state senator Ellen Anderson (J.D. ’86), senior advisor on energy and environment to Governor Dayton, as its inaugural executive director.

A strategic initiative of the University’s Institute on the Environment in partnership with the Office of the Vice President for Research and the Law School, the Energy Transition Lab will bring together leaders in government, business and nonprofit organizations to develop new energy policy pathways, institutions and regulations. As executive director, Anderson will work with the lab’s faculty director, Law School professor Hari Osofsky, to build collaborations, establish and monitor projects, and develop the lab into a focal point for innovative solutions.

“Ellen Anderson has been a leader in Minnesota’s energy transition for over two decades, and I cannot imagine someone more qualified to serve as the Energy Transition Lab’s inaugural executive director and help this lab make a major impact,” Osofsky said. “Her experience as a legislator crafting our key renewable energy legislation, as the chair of the Public Utilities Commission regulating energy in the state and as a senior advisor to Governor Dayton on these issues will be invaluable to this new initiative.”

“We need the University of Minnesota’s great researchers and thought leaders to help our energy system transition to meet the challenges of the 21st century,” Anderson said. “I am thrilled to lead this critical endeavor, and look forward to working with the public, private and community sectors to catalyze innovative solutions.”

The Energy Transition Lab will focus on four core strategies: boosting energy efficiency; increasing use of clean, renewable energy sources; improving systems that move energy to where it’s needed; and advancing energy and environmental justice. The lab will address these by taking on projects in partnership with community leaders, moving from problem to tangible solution through consultations, research, public meetings, and outreach initiatives. An annual conference will bring together business, public policy and thought leaders to report on progress and identify next steps—which could include other high-impact activities. Specific products will include policy reports, legislative testimony, model legislation and regulations, as well as valuable learning opportunities for students, who will participate in shaping solutions through class activities and capstone projects. Public events will build awareness of the energy transition and of the lab’s activities.

According to Osofsky, the Energy Transition Lab aims to become the “go-to” place for experts and leaders beyond the University to work with University faculty, students and staff toward solutions to energy challenges.

“We have already begun the process of collaborating with key leaders in business, government and non-governmental organizations to develop projects that will help advance the energy transition in the Twin Cities, Minnesota, nationally and internationally,” Osofsky said. “We are excited to continue work with these and other leaders to make the Energy Transition Lab’s efforts as helpful as possible. We are aiming to find the leverage points in which our work can fill a gap and make a difference in important law and policy areas.”

IonE names seven new resident fellowsLake Malawi

Faculty from across the U of M accept the challenge of addressing environmental problems through interdisciplinary work

MINNEAPOLIS / ST. PAUL (2/18/14)—Seven University of Minnesota faculty from seven different colleges have been named resident fellows of the Institute on the Environment. Representing a range of disciplines, the new fellows join 58 others conducting interdisciplinary projects that seek to understand and address environmental problems.

Fellows maintain their appointment in their own departments, but receive additional funding to pursue projects that cross disciplinary boundaries. The fellowships also help accelerate professional and leadership development. Continue reading

New pilot program takes aim at supply chain carbonLife Cycle

(1/21) Recognizing that the vast bulk of most companies’ carbon footprint rests in its supply chain, the University of Minnesota Institute on the Environment’s NorthStar Initiative for Sustainable Enterprise has teamed up with CDP (formerly the Carbon Disclosure Project) to help global suppliers reduce their carbon emissions. Six large customers – Bank of America, L’Oreal, PepsiCo, Philips, Vodafone and Walmart – and over 100 of their suppliers are participating in the pilot program. Read more

Flowering plants evolved to weather the coldorange flowers

(12/22) Plant researchers, including Institute on the Environment resident fellow Peter Reich, have assembled the largest evolutionary tree to show the order in which flowering plants evolved specific strategies, such as the seasonal shedding of leaves, to move from warm climates into areas with cold winters. How they managed this expansion has long vexed researchers searching for plants’ equivalent to the winter parka. Read more

Getting their point acrossAASHE Award Winners

(12/11) In March 2013, a group of University of Minnesota students – some with IonE connections – laid out for an assembly of a thousand state environmental leaders their vision and hopes for the future that belongs to them. Their future is longer than the future of the leaders, and promises to be subject to harsher climate and other environmental travails. Read more