by Roger Gold
From 'History of the UNL Nebraska Water Center, from 1964 to 2008', School of Natural Resources: Karen E. Stork and Steven W. Ress, p. 41.
Director from 1988-1990
Dr. Martin Massengale, Vice-Chancellor of UNL’s Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources, hired me in 1977. He came to Nebraska two years earlier and asked me to come with him to be director of Environmental Programs-IANR. I agreed in 1977 and came to Nebraska as Director of Environmental Programs and Associate Professor of Entomology.
Environmental Programs obviously overlapped in some areas with the Nebraska Water Center, particularly in irrigation and the leaching/back siphoning of pesticides down wells. When I got here I remember looking at an empty office and reception area in what was then the Wildlife Building on East Campus. I was eventually promoted to Professor of Entomology and was asked to serve as head of the Department of Entomology and Director of Environmental Programs. This continued for two years, after which I was appointed director of the Nebraska Water Center and Environmental Programs.
Why so many changes took place during my employment at UNL was always a bit of an enigma to me, but the Dean asked and I always accepted the challenges. In Texas that is called "Riding the brand", meaning I worked for IANR and did as I was asked. I enjoyed my years in Nebraska for many reasons, but the most important was that I was privileged to work with really dedicated people. It also was a great place to raise children, and further my career. In looking back, those were great years where I really enjoyed my work.
My interest in magic has continued. On several occasions I used it in extension efforts with Nebraska Water Center programs such as the children’s water festivals in Grand Island. One of the main things I remember about my time with the Nebraska Water Center was "Windshield time," traveling the state attending grower's meetings, talking about best management practices, the need for water conservation and water quality issues. I specifically remember the positive interactions with the Natural Resources Districts and programs they developed, i.e., outreach programs and documentaries we produced such as the Long Pine Creek Project about reducing nitrates, or the Central Platte Project that addressed challenges with leaching agricultural chemicals into groundwater.
During my tenure, brief as it was, we began the $4 million Nebraska Research Initiative (NRI) funded by state government. There were calls for proposals from across the university and funding was provided in several different colleges, departments and divisions including IANR. The money required annual progress reviews and I remember the challenges associated with approving proposals, hiring new faculty and staff and meeting the requirement of measurable goals in the timeframe mandated by the funding.
The Water Sciences Laboratory was established during this time with Dr. Roy Spalding as founding director. Space was renovated in a separate building behind the Wildlife Building to house it. Much of the initial emphasis of the lab’s research involved groundwater resources, particularly nitrates and pesticides that were suspected of leaching into groundwater. We worked closely with the Soil Conservation Service and UNL’s Conservation and Survey Division developing best management practices to reduce erosion and address leaching of agricultural chemicals.
In addition to state money, we also received a major grant from industry to evaluate center pivot irrigation and the consequences of back-siphoning agricultural chemicals into wells. Part of this work correlated with Environmental Programs.
There was also an extension component to the center’s programs and many of us worked with producers, chemical companies and the public to bring awareness of the importance of groundwater in Nebraska and the need for conservation of water resources and environmental protection. Certainly one of our most important outreach programs was working with commodity groups and The Groundwater Foundation. Foundation youth programs and 4-H programs were critical to working with the next generation who would assume future leadership roles.
I remained head of the Nebraska Water Center/Environmental Programs until 1989, when I decided to get back into teaching and research in entomology. I accepted a position as an Endowed Chair and Professor of Entomology, and Director of the Center for Urban and Structural Entomology at Texas A&M University and have been there for17 years.
Those really were the good ole days. A number of UNL students have joined my programs in Texas as post-doc and graduate students. They have all been outstanding students and individuals and have reflected positively on Nebraska. Being director of the Nebraska Water Center during a time of expansion was personally rewarding, and I have the faculty and staff that worked in the center to thank for making the programs such a success.