Goal 6: Ensure access to water and sanitation for all
While we have made substantial progress in increasing access to clean drinking water and sanitation, billions of people—mostly in rural areas—still lack these basic services. Water is essential not only to health but also to poverty reduction, food security, peace and human rights, ecosystems and education. By managing our water sustainably, we can also better manage our production of food and energy and contribute to decent work and economic growth. Moreover, we can preserve our water ecosystems, their biodiversity, and take action on climate change.
Sustainable Development Goal #6 explores how we as a society and as individuals can help ensure clean water and sanitary conditions become a reality. It’s time to take action, from keeping governments accountable to investing in water research and development to ensuring diverse voices are being included in water resources governance the University of Minnesota is at the forefront of awareness into action and creating win-win results and increased sustainability for both human and ecological systems.
RESEARCH AND EXPERTISE
OUTREACH AND PUBLIC ENGAGEMENT
Public Events Supporting Water Quality and Security
The “We Are Water MN” Program, developed by the Minnesota Humanities Center, deepens connections between the humanities and water through a network of partnerships, a traveling exhibit, and public events. Several UMN system campuses, including Morris, have hosted the traveling exhibit and helped coordinate community events and forums related the importance and role of water at the community level.
The Water Resources Center (WRC) and the College of Continuing & Professional Studies cosponsor the Annual Water Resources Conference. The full day event gives attendees an opportunity to immerse themselves in innovative, practical, and applied water resource engineering solutions, management techniques, and current research about Minnesota’s water resources.
The Headwaters Lecture Series brings internationally known water resources scholars to campus to discuss frontier research issues with the University of Minnesota’s water community.
The Soil Management Summit focuses on combining proven farmer experience and applied science. During the summit, there are opportunities to interact with experienced producers and researchers via break-out sessions, table talk discussions and panels of farmers and agronomists sharing their practical experiences.
The Minnesota Stormwater Seminar and Research Spotlight Series is dedicated to stormwater and green infrastructure topics with an emphasis on successes and lessons learned from field implementation and applied research and evaluation. They aim the series at stormwater practitioners and professionals.
Educational Opportunities for Local Communities to Learn about Good Water Management
The stormwater education program promotes environmentally sound water resources management and policy implementation. UMN Extension specialists develop and promote innovative stormwater best management practices among stormwater practitioners through locally tailored workshops. These workshops focus on important stormwater issues facing Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System operators such as cities and watersheds in addition to a core online course.
The goal of the Minnesota Sea Grant's One Block at a Time program is to increase community resilience to climate hazards, particularly the impacts of flooding, in vulnerable frontline communities across the Great Lakes.
The Watershed Game is an interactive, educational tool that helps individuals understand the connection between land use and water quality. The WSG is available in two versions: The Watershed Game for Local Leaders and The Watershed Game for Classrooms.
Part of the WRC, the Onsite Sewage Treatment Program protects public health and the environment by improving wastewater treatment through research-based workshops, as well as outreach to homeowners, small communities, professionals and policymakers.
The College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences (CFANS) offers an Erosion and Stormwater Management Certification Program which is aimed at providing comprehensive training for designers, inspectors, contractors, and other staff involved with construction sites, municipalities, and industrial facilities that are subject to National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System regulations.
Working with Regional Farmers to Promote Best Management Practices Regarding Soil Health and Water Quality
The Minnesota Office for Soil Health (MOSH) was formed in 2017, as a collaboration between the Board of Water and Soil Resources and the WRC. Their mission is to protect and improve soil resources and water quality by developing the knowledge, skills and abilities of local experts to more effectively promote sustainable soil and land management. In 2021, MOSH, in collaboration with the MN Natural Resources Conservation Service and MN Board of Water and Soil Resources, awarded grants to support four soil health demonstration sites across the state.
The Nutrient and Water Management Research and Outreach Program at the Northwest Research and Outreach Center in Crookston is dedicated to finding mutually beneficial solutions for growers and downstream users of ecosystems. The team studies the interactions between water and soil fertility in the region’s agricultural systems to improve agriculture’s sustainability while maintaining grower profitability and minimizing environmental impacts.
For over a decade, The Land Institute and the University of Minnesota’s Forever Green Initiative have collaborated on a IWG breeding program that in 2019 led to the release of MN-Clearwater. From the offset, the team has worked with farmers as partners, sharing insights into grower needs and challenges and contributing essential production knowledge. They also coordinate with growers to support access to technical resources and markets, including launching the Forever Green EECO Implementation Program and the Perennial Promise Growers Cooperative, the first co-op for growers.
Promoting Conscious Water Usage and Safety on Campus and in the Wider Community
UMN Extension has extensive information on water that covers topics related to everything from agriculture, to watersheds, to urban stormwater, to water in individual homes. Besides providing extensive advice on the benefits of rain gardens and how to design your own, their Water Wisely information which gives tips for maintaining a healthy lawn and garden while not overusing a precious resource.
The University’s Office of Sustainability, is committed to incorporating sustainability into all aspects of the institution and we are leading the way through our teaching, research, and outreach and the operations that support them. With the recent Choose ReUse and WIN! program, Gophers were encouraged Gophers reduce their plastic waste on and off campus by attaching an official barcode sticker on a reusable cup, bottle or mug and recording their fill ups through the Fill It Forward app to be entered to win prizes.
As part of their Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System (STARS) reporting, the University of Minnesota Morris tracked and compared its water usage from a baseline year (2006-07) to a performance year (2013-14). Their report showed a nearly 10 percent reduction in potable water use per weighted campus user from the baseline and also noted water conscious upgrades to their plumbing infrastructure and boiler system.
The majority of drinking water in Minnesota comes from groundwater. Depending on where they live, Minnesotans get their drinking water from either a public water utility or a private well. UMN Extension has extensive information to help ensure homeowners have the knowledge they need to effectively monitor, test, and report issues related to their drinking wanter.
For the last 35 years, the School of Public Health's Minnesota Technical Assistance Program (MnTAP) has been providing University staff and student interns to help towns and businesses save money and improve their efficiency through water, energy, and waste reduction—for free! In 2021 alone, 41 facilities implemented 107 MnTAP recommended process changes and realized reductions totaling 38.3 million gallons of water, 298,300 pounds of waste, 10.8 million kWh and 68,900 therms of energy.
Cooperating with Local, Regional, Tribal, and/or National Governments on Water Management, Quality and Security Programs
The Lake Superior Great Lakes One Water team developed the Great Lakes One Water Resilient Future project. The aim of this project is to build a community of civic and municipal leaders with the vision and drive to raise awareness of water-management infrastructure tools. These tools can help mitigate the negative effects of extreme weather on the health and well-being of communities across the Lake Superior region. This project is part of the Great Lakes One Water Partnership, which is a multi-year, basin-wide initiative designed to help communities around the Great Lakes region develop and implement projects to protect the regions freshwater resources.
UMN Extension works in Indian Country through mutually beneficial community-University partnerships. These partnerships aim to improve American Indian communities’ access to and representation in the University and to develop, in partnership with American Indian communities, culturally appropriate programs using innovative approaches to achieve mutual goals—including those related to water quality and stewardship.
Nearly 75% of Minnesotans rely on groundwater as a drinking water source. The University supports private well owners and water resource professionals through education and outreach on the science of groundwater, drinking water testing and treatment, and private well and septic maintenance. In 2020, the WRC and the Humphrey School of Public Affairs released a final report for the Minnesota Department of Health on the “Future of Minnesota Drinking Water: A Framework for Managing Risk” which included some actions for future consideration.
Wild rice conservation in the Great Lakes region is complicated. But a team of College of Science and Engineering researchers—in collaboration with Indian tribes, state and federal scientists, and social scientists—have taken on the challenge in the form of a University Grand Challenges initiative that uses wild rice as a flagship for clean water.
Morris has some of the hardest groundwater in Minnesota. Prior to the construction of the cities new water treatment plant in 2019, most Morris residents relied on in-home water softeners to remove minerals in the water with salt which led to salty brine from the water softeners was being discharged into the Pomme de Terre River. Morris is not alone with this issue and now a team including the University of Minnesota Morris, the City of Morris, and University of Minnesota Extension’s Southwest Regional Sustainable Development Partnership are working to help other Minnesota towns address their own clean water concerns.
Developing New Tools, Technologies, and Best Management Practices to Protect Water
One of several projects of the interdisciplinary team behind the Remote Sensing of Water Resources group, the Minnesota LakeBrowser is an online interactive lake water clarity/quality tool with Landsat-derived classifications of lake clarity of over 10,500 lakes measured 11 times from 1975 to 2018. It also includes searchable statewide maps of chlorophyll concentrations and CDOM levels for several years.
UMN Forever Green Initiative in CFANS is developing and improving winter-hardy annual and perennial crops and cropping systems that protect soil and water while driving new economic opportunities and for growers, industry, and Minnesota communities across the state.
Due to the ingenuity of researchers in the Department of Bioproducts and Biosystems Engineering in CFANS, a regular, store-bought sponge was transformed into a tool that can remove over 99.9 percent of mercury from lakes, rivers, storm water ponds, wetlands and wastewater. The “mercury sponge” team has since partnered with 3M Pollution to create a commercial product.
The Continental Scientific Drilling (CSD) Facility is part of CSE's School of Earth & Environmental Sciences. The CSD Facility provides leadership and services for the communities of scientists requiring drilling, coring, and subsurface surveys and monitoring on Earth’s continents, on land and in lakes.
An obstacle to statewide control of invasive Phragmites australis (common reed) in Minnesota is its continued use for dewatering biosolids in wastewater treatment facilities. Development of an alternative to invasive Phragmites is essential for eliminating wastewater treatment facility source populations that can drive reinvasion in Minnesota despite efforts to control it across the landscape. The Minnesota Aquatic Invasive Species Research Center has funded a project focused wastewater treatment facilities’ transition away from invasive Phragmites by systematically seeking native Phragmites strains with high dewatering ability, as well as trialing other native wetland plants for potential use at wastewater treatment facilities.
EDUCATION AND STUDENTS
UMN POLICIES AND ADMINISTRATION
UMN Policies to Prevent Polluted Water from Entering the Water System
The University of Minnesota’s Environmental Protection Governing Policy specifically requires are students, faculty and staff across the system to protect the environment by: 1) Planning activities to minimize the amount of waste produced and resources used, 2) Conserving aquatic resources, 3) Reusing and recycling materials by using existing campus programs, 4) Using established programs for proper disposal of hazardous materials, 5) Protecting soil, surface water, and groundwater from contamination, and 6) Reporting chemical spills immediately.
In compliance with the systemwide policy, UMD’s Environmental Health and Safety Office has extensive guidelines regarding the disposal of hazardous waste on its campus. Their work includes managing a chemical waste registry database, a hazardous waste inspection log and provides mandatory training on managing and disposal of hazardous waste for any employee who works in a laboratory setting or who ships, sorts, or generates hazardous waste.
Across the UMN system, domestic and industrial wastewater is primarily handled by local wastewater treatment systems, with occasional additional special permits required to ensure compliance with industrial waste rules. For instance, in the Twin Cities, the Metropolitan Council Environmental Services (MCES) oversees the regional wastewater conveyance and treatment system. A wastewater generated at the University is conveyed through the University sanitary infrastructure to the MCES regional treatment system.
The University of Minnesota maintains Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4) permits for the Twin Cities and UMD campuses. These permits require the University to implement best management practices with the goal of reducing pollutants to the maximum extent practicable.
UMN Building and Landscaping Upgrades to Prevent Stormwater Runoff and Reuse Water
Stormwater runoff can accumulate litter, soil and plant debris, lawn fertilizers, oils, pet waste, and other pollutants that can adversely affect water quality. As part of its efforts to decrease stormwater runoff, the UMD campus has a variety of stormwater features that serve to clean, cool, and slow stormwater down before it hits the storm drains including rain gardens, native plantings, and retention ponds.
The University of Minnesota Office of Sustainability developed a Sustainability Walking Tour for the Twin Cities campus that highlights several innovative solutions to decrease runoff (rain gardens, green roofs, etc) and reuse water. A few highlights:
- Huntington Bank Stadium includes an extensive stormwater management system in which water flows through rain gardens and a dry pond that filters out pollutants. The dry pond also slows the water flow rate as it eventually drains into the Mississippi river.
- The 17th Ave Residential Hall’s completion in 2013 came with sustainable changes. These include: sustainably sourced and recycled furniture and carpeting, a green roof, waste heat recovery system, and energy efficient lighting and appliances. It also collects rainwater that is used to flush toilets!
UMN Policies Regarding the Safety and Availability of Campus Drinking Water
The University of Minnesota’s Water Sanitation Policy includes regulations to ensure UMN drinking water is in compliance with the State of Minnesota and University safety requirements regarding water sanitation. This policy includes processes for reporting water quality issues with University Health & Safety, adding new drinking water wells, and ensuring all pumping for drinking water complies with the Minnesota State Plumbing Code.
Influencing Freshwater Ecosystem Policy and Efficient Water Use on the State, Regional or National Level
University of Minnesota experts were among several participants that provided information and insights for the Clean Water Council FY 20-21 Clean Water Fund and Policy Recommendations Report.
As one of 54 federally funded national water institutes, UMN Water Resources Center has a number of projects that address policy implications related to the social, cultural and physical characteristics of Minnesota’s streams, lakes, reservoirs and watersheds.
In the land of over 10,000 lakes, water is a vital resource for residents and tribes, thus making water scholarship a substantial endeavor across the UMN System. The Water Council, founded by the Office of the Vice President for Research, serves to bring together resources from across the University of Minnesota System to address the pressing concern of access to clean water for the 21st Century.
MnDRIVE—Minnesota’s Discovery, Research, and InnoVation Economy—is a partnership between the University of Minnesota and the State of Minnesota that aligns areas of research strength within the University to the state’s key and emerging industries to address grand challenges. They identified five strategic areas, including “environment.” MnDRIVE Environment continues to be an active participant in supporting ground breaking research related to water as well as partnering with industry and local governments on key research projects.