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Opinion: Working every day to protect our waters

Here in Minnesota (and especially in the Brainerd lakes area in the summertime), we have a special relationship with water, one of our state's most important resources. As "the Land of 10,000 Lakes" water is tied closely to how we see ourselves as Minnesotans.

Water is a key resource for agriculture, mining and other industries, and it provides a connection to the nation and the world through trade on Lake Superior. And water provides a variety of recreational activities, from ice fishing to summer canoe trips. But perhaps most importantly, clean water is what Minnesotans rely on every day for cooking, cleaning and of course, drinking.

At the University of Minnesota, researchers in labs and fields across the state study, monitor and protect our water. For example:

• With aquatic invasive species infesting more than 550 lakes statewide, the Minnesota Aquatic Invasive Species Research Center is developing better ways to control and minimize their spread. In Brainerd, the center is researching ways to eradicate zebra mussels to prevent the spread of this damaging species.

• On Big Trout Lake, several University groups worked with the Crow Wing Soil and Water Conservation District to study the stormwater runoff problem from Highway 66. Local partners used University students' proposal for filtration, DNR research and local water quality monitoring data to apply for and receive a significant Clean Water Fund Legacy Grant to implement the solution, which is now in place, protecting the lake's cold water fish species.

• The MnDRIVE partnership between the University, the State, and industry has helped researchers find innovative new ways to remove dangerous chemicals from waters and soils through the use of bacteria and plants, and new methods like a high tech sponge that can clean up mercury, a major pollutant in our waterways. A startup company called Minnepura that grew out of these University technologies was named as one of the best University startups in the country in 2016.

• Keeping drinking water safe is a challenge, especially for many Greater Minnesota communities. The Natural Capital Project at the U of M's Institute on the Environment recently partnered with the Minnesota Department of Health to quantify the value of safe drinking water. This kind of explicit valuation can help communities that are facing choices in development and land and water use that could affect drinking water quality make better-informed decisions about their future.

• Minnesota Sea Grant, the Large Lakes Observatory, the Saint Anthony Falls Laboratory and the River Life program use our location to study the world's largest body of freshwater and the nation's largest river: Lake Superior and the Mississippi River.

The list goes on: We're helping the Crosslake community design a new Loon Center. We've worked to mitigate the effects of fertilizer run-off to improve irrigation and farming practices and, as part of our Grand Challenges research agenda, we're looking at how microbes in the soil can slow the release of nitrogen from fertilizer back into the environment. And we've brought together our most accomplished water-related researchers from across the University system in a Water Council to help ensure that our research is coordinated, relevant and impactful.

From Lake Superior to the Mississippi, Mille Lacs to the Boundary Waters, Lake of the Isles to Lake of the Woods, water is an essential part of the Land of 10,000 Lakes. And here at the University of Minnesota, we will continue to play a significant role in protecting our water quality for generations to come.

Allen Levine is vice president for research for the University of Minnesota system. Previously he served as dean of the College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences on the Twin Cities campus.

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