WRAP meets at Ferguson House

By Steve Ress

The Water Resources Advisory Panel (WRAP) for the University of Nebraska met at Lincoln’s historic Ferguson House on Jan. 18 in advance of a reception for state legislators and staff.

The well attended meeting included comment from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s new Vice President and Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources Harlan Vice Chancellor Michael J. Boehm, who presided over his first IANR “all hands” meeting earlier the same day.

Steve Goddard, Interim Vice Chancellor for Research and Economic Development (ORED) and Assistant Vice Chancellor Monica Norby gave a synopsis of recent research grants in ORED, noting that there continues to be emphasis in the area of the “Nexus of food, water and energy,” including the awarding of several ORED seed grants in this area. Other areas of current interest include food and water security initiatives and ORED support for the establishment of regional climate centers.

Direction and funding for specific areas of research, including possibly climate-related research, could be in question with the new administration in Washington D.C., Norby said in answer to a question on the matter.

Peter McCornick, Executive Director of the Robert B. Daugherty Water for Food Global Institute (DWFI) said he had spoken with representatives of USAID on water and sanitation and that water security continues to be an emphasis on the international stage. McCornick also noted recent collaborative talks with the World Bank.

Chittaranjan Ray, Director of the Nebraska Water Center, briefed WRAP members on the recent award of a nearly $1 million U.S. Department of Agriculture/NIFA grant in cooperation with project leader Colorado State University and other institutions to study adaptive management and water use in the Ogallala/High Plains Aquifer under changing climate.

Ray said he is also working with partners at Penn State University and others on developing a $1 million CAP grant proposal with USDA to evalute the human dimensions of water resource management work.

Jesse Starita of DWFI updated the group on the second round of student exchanges between UNL and the Government of India through the Water Advanced Research and Innovation, or WARI, fellowship program. Under the program, five UNL graduate students will study in India this year, Starita said.

Mark Brohman, Executive Director of the Nebraska Environmental Trust, said NET had just published its 2017 list of grant committee recommendations for funding. In total, Brohman said NET expected to fund nearly $16.7 million in projects during the coming year through funds received via the Nebraska Lottery.

Since NET began funding projects in 1994, about 2,000 have been funded for a total of approximately $260 million, Brohman said, noting NET has helped fund projects in all 93 Nebraska counties.

Lincoln attorney Lee Orton of the Nebraska Well Drillers Association updated WRAP on the coming seventh installment of the Water Leaders Academy, saying 20 young water professionals were enrolled. He noted the association’s continuing concerns over the decline of UNL’s Conservation and Survey Division, saying that CSD’s association with the well drillers dates back 90 years, to 1927.

The association and others are working with UNL toward a “Water, food and fiber” field day for school students that is being planned for Nebraska City.

Jay Rempe of the Nebraska Farm Bureau Federation talked about the overall state of Nebraska’s slowing farm economy, the bureau’s involvement in the Aquamart program and several WRAP members’ interest in providing more substantive feedback to NU leadership, such as feedback on specific university programs.

Lower Elkhorn Natural Resources District General Manager Mike Sousek updated WRAP on a $300,000 cooperative groundwater management program study being undertaken in northeast Nebraska’s Bazile Creek area.

Craig Dedrickson of the Nebraska Natural Resources Conservation Service office talked about current and future directions for NRCS funding that will include such areas as water quality studies, water use efficiency and technology and soil health, among others.

Karina Schoengold, an environmental and resource economist in UNL’s School of Natural Resources, gave WRAP a presentation on “Optimizing Water Use through Adaptive Management: A USDA-funded Multistate Project.”

The next WRAP meeting is scheduled to be a breakfast affair in conjunction with DWFI’s next global conference at 7:30 a.m., April 11 at Nebraska Innovation Campus in Lincoln.

WRAP is comprised of 15 members representing a cross section of Nebraska’s water community. They provide guidance to the University of Nebraska on state water research needs, education, and outreach. WRAP generally meets in January, April and September. Current members are:

  • Frank Albrecht, Nebraska Game and Parks Commission
  • Brian Barels, Nebraska Public Power District
  • Lydia Brasch, State Senator and Agriculture Committee Chair, Nebraska Legislature
  • Mark Brohman, Nebraska Environmental Trust
  • Joel Christenen, Metropolitan Utilities District
  • Gordon “Jeff” Fassett, Nebraska Department of Natural Resources
  • Eugene Glock, Cedar Bell Farms 
  • Dan Hughes, State Senator, Natural Resources Committee Chair, Nebraska Legislature
  • Jerry Kenny, Platte River Recovery and Implementation Program
  • Marian Langan, Audubon Nebraska
  • Jim Macy, Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality
  • Mike Sousek, Lower Elkhorn Natural Resources District
  • Lee Orton, Nebraska Well Drillers Association
  • Jay Rempe, Nebraska Farm Bureau Federation
  • Dayle Williamson, Office of U.S. Senator Ben Nelson (retired)