Category Archives: Water

Helping sugarcane growers reduce water wasteIrrigation canal next to a sugarcane field

The Institute on the Environment’s mission is to discover solutions to Earth’s most pressing environmental challenges. Kate Brauman, lead scientist of the Global Water Initiative at IonE, is helping bring this mission to life. Her recent research looking at global irrigation patterns is now being used by Bonsucro, an organization working to use less water in the production of sugarcane around the world. IonE communications director Todd Reubold recently sat down with Brauman to hear the story.

How did you get started in this field?

Agriculture is heavily managed and most of the focus is on the food products that are grown. But at the end of the day crops are still just plants that need water. So when I was working with IonE’s Global Landscapes Initiative team and the data it produces around crop yield, I started asking, “How big a food bang are people getting for their water buck?” In other words, what is the “crop per drop?” Continue reading

Visiting scholar brings fresh eyesSiew in the Taklamakan Desert in Xinjiang, northwest China

This summer, the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment is hosting visiting scholar Tuck Fatt Siew, a postdoctoral researcher at Goethe University Frankfurt in Germany, who is exploring ways to integrate ecosystem services valuation into watershed management in China.

Visiting scholars bring fresh perspectives, “positive disruption” to the day-to-day way of seeing and doing, says Lewis Gilbert, IonE’s managing director. Visiting scholars are not paid by the University or IonE but are given desk space and the use of office equipment. Continue reading

Study: Oil palm plantations alter water qualityPhoto: Yadi Purwanto

New research from the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment and Stanford University shows that freshwater stream ecosystems are highly vulnerable to oil palm plantation expansion.

The three-year study compared streams draining watersheds dominated by four land uses — intact forest, manually logged forest, community agroforest and oil palm plantation — in West Kalimantan, Indonesian Borneo, which is ground zero for palm oil production. Continue reading

Frontiers: Understanding urban eutrophicationUrban runoff

When you think about the primary sources of water pollution, you probably imagine a factory pipe or perhaps massive livestock farms. But would you believe that your quiet neighborhood could be degrading water quality locally and downstream?

Portrait: Sarah HobbieThat was the topic of the season finale of Institute on the Environment’s Frontiers in the Environment lecture series on Wednesday, May 7, on the University of Minnesota’s St. Paul campus.

In “A Watershed Approach to Understanding Urban Eutrophication,” Sarah Hobbie, an IonE resident fellow and professor of ecology, evolution and behavior in the College of Biological Sciences, discussed how nutrients from lawns, pets and boulevard trees contribute to excessive algal growth in urban water bodies.

Continue reading

Paddle forward: Mississippi RiverPaddle group

Last fall, 10 other people and I paddled more than 2,000 miles in canoes. Our trip was called Paddle Forward, and we were on a mission to paddle the length of the Mississippi River. I’ve been paddling for years but mostly in wilderness areas such as the Boundary Waters. While I love these places and enjoy the quiet time alone in nature, recreating on local waterways brings a new appreciation to the place you live.

I spent the majority of college learning about environmental issues surrounding climate change, such as energy usage, water depletion, resource extraction and decreases in biodiversity. Alone, secluded in serene wilderness, you are less likely to think about difficult climate issues. However, while paddling a river that more than 50 cities depend on for daily water supply, you can’t escape noticing the effects humans have on the fourth largest watershed in the world. Continue reading

Common groundconeflowerbarn

This article is part of a series of profiles of IonE resident fellows highlighting the value of their collaborations across the U of M, Minnesota and the world.

Conventional wisdom has it that farmers and conservationists don’t see eye to eye. Conservationists want to see farmers plant diverse vegetation, in addition to crops like corn and soybeans, that produces ecosystem services; farmers’ main priority is earning a living. Right?

“Farmers care just as much about the environment as anyone, but there are financial realities,” says Nick Jordan, a resident fellow with the Institute on the Environment and an agroecology professor in the College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences. Continue reading

Frontiers: Yellowstone: More valuable than goldYellowstone

Mining near sensitive ecosystems is one of the hottest natural resource debates, pitting economic and environmental values against each other. As the controversy surrounding mining in Minnesota continues, opponents may want to take a few notes from one of the nation’s largest, successful anti-mining campaigns to date.

Portrait: Mike ClarkMike Clark, former executive director of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition, shared his experience fighting the New World mining project outside the nation’s largest national park in the 1980s and 1990s in his Frontiers in the Environment lecture Wednesday, April 9 on the University of Minnesota’s St. Paul campus.

In “Yellowstone: More Valuable Than Gold,” Clark discussed what makes the park and surrounding landscape so valuable and why that usually leads to conflict.

Continue reading

Can technology save the planet?Nanotech by Matthias Weinberger.

The Thinking Ahead Seminar Series: Emerging Technologies and the Environment, hosted by the Humphrey School of Public Affairs with funding from an Institute on the Environment Mini Grant, explores the newest technologies from multiple disciplines inside and outside the University and their potential to help solve the most daunting environmental challenges. Continue reading

Exhibit: I am waterA clear lake

Throw a pebble into a lake or stream and ripples will radiate out from the place of entry, breaking the inertia at the surface. Minneapolis artist Camille Gage hopes her art piece, “I AM WATER,” will have a similar effect on people, catalyzing their sense of responsibility for tackling one of the biggest challenges we humans face: protecting Earth’s finite water reserves. Continue reading

Frontiers: Water stewardship & industryWater droplets

Water is essential to a healthy life and a healthy business. So as the world’s water resources are becoming more scarce, the private sector is paying attention.

Portrait: Raj RajanRaj Rajan, global sustainability technical leader and research, development and engineering vice president at Ecolab, Inc., discussed how commercial enterprises must shift the way they think about water in their business models in last week’s Frontiers in the Environment lecture. His talk, “Water Stewardship and the Private Sector” took place Wednesday, Feb. 26 on the University of Minnesota’s St. Paul campus.

Continue reading

Frontiers: The importance of food literacyFrontiers: Chris Lambe

When it comes to our food system, it seems everyone has an opinion on how we can eat healthier, feed more people and reduce our environmental impacts. But how can you separate food fact from food fiction?

Portrait: Chris LambeThat was the topic of last week’s Frontiers in the Environment lecture presented by Chris Lambe, director of social responsibility for The Mosaic Company - a crop nutrient production company based in Plymouth, Minn.

In “The Importance of Food Literacy,” Lambe discussed why it is imperative that consumers, producers and policy-makers alike have a basic understanding of how the food system works and the challenges facing food production around the world.
Continue reading

John Gulliver: Runoff wranglerHeron in Ditch

Stormwater falling on paved and other impermeable surfaces is the main source of urban runoff. That water is laden with nutrients and minerals that are detrimental to the water quality of rivers and lakes.

IonE resident fellow John Gulliver, a professor in the College of Science and Engineering, has spent more than a decade working on ways to protect water from the ravages of runoff. Continue reading

Ecosystem services for river basin managementRhone river dam

Do you know about the Water Framework Directive? It calls for all waters in the European Union to be managed as river basins and for those river basins to be brought up to “good status.” That’s tremendous – a really forward-looking way to think about managing water. But as you can surely imagine, it’s also quite a task to implement!

I was lucky enough to work with the RISKBASE group during 2009-2010 to help develop risk-based approaches for managers to guide river basins to good status. I’m not an expert in risk, nor an expert about European river basins, but I was really excited to get involved. This had the potential to bring biophysical science together with new management approaches to actually solve problems. Continue reading

People reap benefits of investment in natureGreat Lakes

What do eight U.S. states and two Canadian provinces have in Common? The Great Lakes! Recently, Detroit Public Television’s Great Lakes Now Connect invited Institute on the Environment resident fellow Stephen Polasky to join a panel of experts to talk about the importance of investing in natural environments to enhance the quality of the Great Lakes.

It’s easy to understand that clean water is important for drinking, fisheries, irrigation, recreation and other benefits that people reap from the Great Lakes. What may not be as obvious is the effect that coastal and upland habitats have on water quality. Continue reading

U students buck the status quoJulian Marshall at Acara Challenge

Spirited voices mixed with the scent of Indian spices in The Commons: Meeting and Art Space at Institute on the Environment last Monday night. Dozens of Acara students, mentors and investors were gathered for a showcase of the 2012-13 Acara Challenge contestants.

Attendees supped on fare from Gandhi Mahal and mingled with the young entrepreneurs before settling in for brief presentations on seven start-ups developed by Acara alumni. The goal of each business – in addition to viability and profit – is to address a social or environmental issue at home or abroad. Continue reading

More “crop per drop”Rice Terrace

We use more water for agriculture than for any other human activity on the planet, so water sustainability and food security are closely linked. And as demand for water increases — for domestic, industrial, and other uses, as well as for in-stream flows for nature, fishing, and recreation –demand for food expands as well due to our growing populations and changing diets. This dilemma will only create more pressure to optimize the efficiency of water use in crop production.

But how do we know where we might get more food “bang” for our water “buck”?  I recently led a study evaluating how crop water productivity — the amount of crop produced per drop of water used — varies across the globe. We discovered that it varies significantly, even between places that have about the same climate. This shows that there is a “water gap” in some areas, which means they could be getting a lot more crop per drop. Continue reading

Not Toba’s faultmalawi barge

Tom Johnson, a University of Minnesota Duluth Regents professor and Institute on the Environment resident fellow, knew his work on Lake Malawi in 2005 would yield significant scientific discoveries. Now, eight years later, he and his colleagues have announced research that impacts our knowledge of the near extinction of the human race. They have determined that 75,000 years ago, the Toba volcanic eruption in Sumatra did not cause a volcanic winter or the dramatic drop in human population in Africa, as some anthropologists had proposed.
Continue reading