05/11 - With this issue, the Water Current reaches 50 years

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Congratulations. You are holding in your hand the 50th anniversary edition of the Nebraska Water Center’s Water Current newsletter.

For a print newsletter that goes to a rather targeted audience to survive, and thrive, for 50 years in this age of instant, cyber-based communications and electronic social media, we think is a Golden Anniversary worthy of note.

We aren’t absolutely sure but are nonetheless fairly confident that the Water Current is the oldest continually published newsletter amongst the more than 50 Water Resources Research Institutes nationwide.

It is the recurring communications piece most closely associated with the Water Center and nearly as old as the center itself, beginning less than five years after the center was established as part of the University’s Conservation and Survey Division in 1964.

In late 1968 or early 1969 the center’s first fulltime permanent director, Warren “Bud” Viessman, Jr. established it as the center’s first, major communications initiative. It was originally targeted to University faculty and rolled off a mimeograph machine in the water center offices as Water Resources News. That changed to Water Current in 1974 and has remained so ever since.

The oldest surviving issue of the publication archived on DigitalCommons@University of Nebraska-Lincoln is Vol. 1, No. 8, December 1969, when the water center was housed in the Agricultural Engineering Building on the University’s East Campus. Viessman was compiling and editing the four-page typed newsletter himself, taking submissions from faculty, writing “research reviews,” announcing various water-related happenings on campus and helping to circulate information on proposals and short courses. According to a research review in that issue,  “Evaluation of Methods for Improving Water Use Efficiency Through Simultaneous Determination of Field Evapotranspiration and Photosynthesis” was of interest then as it very much is now as well.

Ten years later the newsletter was still rolling off the mimeograph machine, but it was publishing annual reports and articles about irrigation scheduling, computer games to judge points of view on water usage, news of recent research grants and news of the center’s annual water conference and water seminar lectures, both of which are still being held annually.

By the time the 1980’s were drawing to a close the newsletter had gone to a three-column, newspaper-like print format of eight pages per issue and graphics and photographs were being published as part of the layout.

The annual water tour, still held today, had just visited the Sandhills, the effects of Acid Rain were very much in the news, and one of the burning front-page issues was whether the proper usage of groundwater was as one word or two, something this writer still wonders about today.

By the early 2000’s, under this writer as the publication’s editor, the Water Current had begun to take-on the basic layout that is still being used, though it has been tweaked three or four times in the intervening 15 years.

Slick, or gloss, paper was being used, as was colored ink. Feature articles on our water faculty and professional staff were being regularly featured, as they still are today, the 30th annual water conference (in 2001) was focused on groundwater monitoring and the year’s upcoming water tour was focusing on challenges to water quality, quantity and demand as Nebraska’s population shifted toward the eastern third of the state.

By then, the newsletter was publishing eight pages, every month. Later it would evolve to a quarterly of 16 to 24 pages per issue. This was cost saving measure to save on preparation expenses, printing and mailing fees.

We don’t know how many copies of the first newsletter Viessman ran off his mimeograph machine, but today, each issue prints almost 3,000 copies, 90 percent of which go out as requested, free subscriptions. It is also published online at watercenter.unl.edu. Costs of the newsletter are covered by federal funding the water center receives annually via the U.S. Geological Survey.       

As the year progresses, Water Current issues will use this Golden Anniversary year to take longer looks at where we were and how far we have come over the last 50 years in areas such as irrigation efficiency, best management practices, overall water use, water policy, water quality, water law and other issues.