Taking charge for cleaner waters | The Business News

by Rachel Sankey, Layout Design/Staff Writer, The Business News
GREEN BAY – The Freshwater Collaborative of Wisconsin – which brings together 13 UW colleges across 26 campuses to address freshwater challenges – recently awarded the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay (UWGB) more than $475,000 in funding toward four different water-related projects.
The funded projects include:

  • $86,879 – Quantifying the impact of spatial and temporal variation in hyporheic zone fluxes on phosphorus transport and release in Wisconsin streams and rivers (joint UWGB and the University of Wisconsin-Madison)
  • $97,036 – Mitigating PFAs contamination of groundwater: Biochar Sequestration of PFAs in Biosolid Leachate at the Field Scale (joint the UW-Milwaukee (UWM) and UWGB)
  • $281,794 – UWGB pre-college student experiences in freshwater, 2023-2025
  • $12,566 – Water, health and habitat interactions: building capacity for water careers and education (joint UWM, UWGB, UW-La Crosse, UW-Parkside, UW-River Falls and UW-Whitewater)

Emily Tyner, director of Freshwater Strategy at UWGB, said this is the third time the university has received funding from the Freshwater Collaborative.

“I inherited a kind of organizing structure of meeting with faculty and staff who do water-related projects, research and teaching,” she said. “We meet once a month – we call it Freshwater Fridays.”

Tyner said the group uses that time to discuss opportunities like this one.

“Because the focus of funding is going to UW system schools, we are always especially eager to apply because the success of awarding grants within our system is great,” she said. “And the collaborative has been supportive of work we’ve done in the past.”

Some of the projects that were funded, Tyner said, are expansions of previously funded work, while others are new collaborations based on emerging needs in the region and state around water issues.

Freshwater Collaborative Executive Director Marissa Jablonski said there are four different targets they look for when distributing funds:

  • Student recruitment
  • Water-related courses
  • Undergraduate research
  • Internships

“We fund high school camps that engage students in water experiences,” she said. “Once we get students to the different (UW) universities, we’ll fund hands-on transformative experience courses… Students are putting on waiters and getting their hands and feet dirty and picking up crawfish and they’re studying water in the field.”

As for internships, Jablonski said the collaborative wants to see those continue to grow and make sure employers have access to students from all 13 universities.

“And then the students have access to all those employers across the entire state,” she said.

Just like any grant funding, Jablonski said the Freshwater Collaborative evaluates the progress of the projects from the UW colleges “every six months to a year,” where the PI (principal investigator) fills out a thorough survey on the students, faculty and staff involved on the project.

“That’s so we can continue to be transparent,” she said. “We use state funds, so we use legislative dollars to make all of this happen, and we have to be auditable.”

Jablonski said this also allows for projects to pivot or make changes if needed.

“A good example is Green Bay’s Manitowoc branch – (they) have a good high school engagement program, and Milwaukee was looking to get into something like that,” she said. “We said to them right off the bat, ‘please talk to UW-Green Bay because they’re already doing it.’ Let’s not reinvent the wheel, let’s use what’s already there.”

It’s about working together
Jablonski said there is so much more to the Freshwater Collaborative than grant funding.

“Instead of (having the UW schools) continue to work in 13 different silos, Freshwater Collaborative – which started more than three years ago – was founded… with the intention of bringing those water programs together, uniting them and bringing out the best in all of them,” she said. “(This way), incoming students can share across Wisconsin and learn from all 13 colleges, not just the one they sign up for.”

The COVID-19 pandemic, Jablonski said, also showed that collaboration is doable, even if campuses are spread far out.

Out of UWGB’s four projects, three of them are collaborative, which Tyner said helps the students get a variety of water-related experiences.

“(One of the collaborations) Green Bay is involved in is looking at human interactions and the Lake Michigan coastline, so students are going to do programs between Green Bay, Parkside and Milwaukee looking at how communities have interacted with their coastline and some of the shoreline trail and challenges, and what role universities play in addressing those concerns,” she said.

Other collaborations between UWGB and other UW schools include:

  • UWM’s research festival – which affords UWGB students an opportunity to attend courses at other UW colleges.
  • Looking at how phosphorus is transported from rivers and streams into groundwater with the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
  • How PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) get into soil and groundwater with UWM.

Bringing up the next generation
Tyner is the PI for UWGB’s pre-college student experiences in fresh water, which she said is a continuation of the funding UWGB received two years back.

The project’s main goal, Tyner said, is to create a network of both K-12 students interested in pursuing a degree in fresh water or freshwater-adjacent programs and educators across the footprint of UWGB – which is a 14-county, 420-mile shoreline spread.

She said the university aims to help students think about their college pipeline.

“To think about jobs in that sector across the region and the state, and then to build a network of K-12 educators that do water-adjacent work either in a classroom teaching or through the clubs they run – (connecting) them to resources we have at the university,” she said. “We also build connections with the DNR (Department of Natural Resources) and other water activities that can help those teachers.”

Tyner said the first two years of the project had great success, especially with the field trips they facilitate, such as invasive species removal.

The project also offers a summer internship program for high school students that provides opportunities for students to get hands-on research experience.

Though many of the other Freshwater Collaborative projects are university-based, Tyner said it’s important to guide the next generation of the workforce.

“(It’s important) to think about the long-term workforce in both agencies, nonprofits, consulting firms, the university – and doing some kind of homegrown training to prepare students for what I think is a growing sector of professional (work that is based) around water,” she said. “We have a statewide interest in advancing Wisconsin’s water program, so training students in state and keeping them in state for school, and then showing them there are lots of opportunities to stay in the state for long term careers in water (is important).”

The privilege of the Great Lakes
When working on the Freshwater Collaborative’s mission statement, Jablonski said she had the chance to speak with a couple of different Tribal nations in Wisconsin.

One of the things about the early mission statement the Tribal nations noticed first, Jablonski said, was there was no mention of water or the natural environment.

“I said something like, ‘well, how do we do that? Please help us learn,’” she said. “And they said, ‘well, first off… (water) shouldn’t be called a resource. Resource implies it’s intended for human use and that’s it. You don’t love your child because they’re useful. You love them because they are. They are kin, they are there.’ And so at the Freshwater Collaborative, we immediately put in place a policy where we call water ‘water’ and water systems, ‘water systems.’”

Jablonski said the Freshwater Collaborative actively works to make sure those water systems are protected and not exploited.

Now, the Freshwater Collaborative’s mission statement includes water in all three areas.

“So No. 1 – create knowledge to solve the freshwater challenges through collaborative research across all academic arenas…” she said. “No. 2 – recruit and develop talented professionals across all freshwater arenas, through intentional structuring of curriculum training, workplace experiences. And No. 3 – improve the well-being of natural ecosystems and all people by applying research and training to engage and serve communities and solve freshwater challenges.”

Tyner said having an abundance of fresh water is a “unique privilege in Wisconsin.”

“The research we do here, I think, has implications, and we can be a leader in addressing some of these freshwater challenges for both the Great Lakes and the world,” she said. “It’s a wonderful thing we have here… There’s so many connections we’ve made or that Wisconsin has with water – whether it’s our economy built on water… paper mills, packaging companies, our ports – all of that is intimately tied to water.”

And, Tyner said, there’s also a historical aspect to fresh water as well.

“(There’s) the recreation, the great fisheries and the spiritual connections,” she said. “The First Nations and Tribal connection, the history even before colonization is all about water. Those things are all great things we want to showcase and celebrate and elevate about Green Bay and Northeast Wisconsin, and funding like this – and especially the project I’m on – can help elevate those great stories and connections.”

Source: Taking charge for cleaner waters

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