Chancellor, state leaders herald water research at legislative hearing

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Chancellor, state leaders herald water research at legislative hearing

 From left to right, Kayla Vondracek, Jessica Corman and Matthew Chen take a look at an algae sample while standing in the Niobrara River. | Craig Chandler, University Communication
Kayla Vondracek (from left), Jessica Corman and Matthew Chen take a look at an algae sample while standing in the Niobrara River. Through Nebraska's UCARE program, Vondracek spent summer 2019 on the Niobrara River researching how tourism can affect the area's water quality.

State legislators plumbed the depths and impacts of the University of Nebraska–Lincoln’s water-based research in a Nov. 15 hearing at the State Capitol.

The discussion flowed from Legislative Resolution 209, which is an interim study that reviews the history and availability of state and federal funding options to expand water research across the University of Nebraska system. The resolution was introduced in May by state senators Kate Bolz (District 28) and John Stinner (District 48).

Chancellor Ronnie Green delivered in-depth testimony on the university’s water research, outlining the institution’s rich history as an innovator in helping Nebraska launch policies and develop technologies intended to conserve surface and groundwater resources.

“Nebraska’s economic vitality and the health of our people and ecosystems rely on maintaining our role as leaders in agricultural innovation,” Green said. “And, while this history of innovation, management and stewardship of water enabled by the University of Nebraska has been pivotally important, there exists a critical need to increase the investment in this area for the state of Nebraska as we move forward for a sustainable future.”

Chancellor Ronnie Green delivered in-depth testimony on the university’s water research during the LR-209 hearing on Nov. 15. Others who testified included Peter McCornick, Roric Paulman and John Berge.

The university’s dedication to research on water issues streams back to the early 1880s and Charles Bessey, a luminary and botany professor. In 1887, Bessey helped write the federal Hatch Act, which provided states with $15,000 in annual federal funds to support experiment stations at land-grant universities.

The state matched those funds and, that same year “Irrigation in Nebraska” became the first bulletin produced by the Nebraska Agricultural Station.

Green’s testimony tapped the history of federal and state investments into university-led water research initiatives, including the 2008 creation of the Daugherty Water for Food Global Institute. Green praised the forward-thinking vision of Bob Daugherty, JB Milliken, Harvey Perlman and Jeff Raikes for leading the creation of the institute and its mission to grow the university’s expertise via faculty hires, cutting-edge equipment and other resources.

“Just as UNL’s early investments in water and agricultural research enabled us to create the Daugherty Water for Food Global Institute, today we are poised to be the international leader in water and food research,” Green said.

Other key research investments made in university-led water research and outlined in the Nov. 15 testimony include:

  • The creation of the Nebraska Water Center via congressional mandate in 1964;

  • $5.2 million from the university between 2003-2010 to support the Water Sciences Laboratory programming, staff and equipment;

  • Launch of the Water Resources Research Initiative in 2001 by the university’s Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources and $5.8 million in funding from 2003-2010 by the university and NU Foundation;

  • $525,000 in federal funding to develop a water resources model for the western Platte River and equipment purchases;

  • $140,000 from the NU Foundation in 2003-2004 to establish an innovative drip irrigation demonstration site at the West Central Research and Extension Center;

  • $2 million from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in 2011 to establish the Global Yield Gap and Water Productivity Atlas;

  • $3.9 million from the National Science Foundation in 2009 to establish governance in stressed watersheds, including the Platte River Basin; and

  • $900,000 from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to partner with University of Illinois and Princeton University on a project to bridge the gap between data collection, modeling and decision-making to aid irrigation decisions by producers.

Others offering testimony on the resolution included Peter McCornick, executive director of the Daugherty Water for Food Global Institute; Roric Paulman, owner and operator of Paulman Farms in Sutherland, Nebraska; and John Berge, general manager of the North Platte Natural Resources District.

“Nebraska is leading the way in agricultural productivity and responsible stewardship of water resources,” McCornick said during his testimony. “(The Nebraska Legislature’s) partnership and support has been a critical factor in our success, and we are grateful for your ongoing engagement.”

In closing testimony, Bolz reinforced the importance of the Water for Food Institute, its impacts on Nebraska, and how its research benefits urban, rural and global interests. She closed by noting that she plans to submit legislation seeking state funding for the university’s water research, in particular for the Water for Food Institute.