More than 340 people gathered May 1 and 2 at Cragun’s Resort in Brainerd to attend the State of Water Conference: Minnesotans Protecting Our Lakes and Rivers.
This one-of-a-kind event was formerly titled the Lakes and Rivers Conference and was organized by the non-profit Minnesota Waters until that organization ceased much of its programming 2012.
After hearing requests for a return of the conference, several partners got together beginning in September 2013 to revive it. They included: Conservation Minnesota (now home to the advocacy arm of Minnesota Waters), University of Minnesota Extension, the Freshwater Society, and representatives from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and the Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources.
Lake associations, county and watershed district representatives, state agency professionals, non-profit groups and private sector consultants attended the conference. It featured 35 workshops and information sessions, plus the opportunity to network and connect with like-minded people from across the state.
Steve Woods, the Freshwater Society’s executive director, welcomed the conference attendees and encouraged them to follow the example of the Society’s main founder, Dick Gray. Woods told the crowd to lead as citizens who have other obligations in life, but are committed to protecting our water resources.
Attendees were able to choose from concurrent sessions in one of five tracks: Aquatic Invasive Species; Restoration of Aquatic Habitat; Watersheds; Local Impact; and Groundwater, Nutrient Management and Runoff. In addition, topics from lawn care to watershed assessment and civic engagement were covered by the four plenary speakers:
- Darby Nelson, Freshwater Society board member, aquatic ecologist and author of “For Love of Lakes.”
- John Linc Stine, Minnesota Pollution Control Agency commissioner.
- John Jashke, Board of Water and Soil Resources executive director.
- Barb Naramore, DNR assistant commissioner.
The conference’s first night included ample time to relax, connect with old friends and make some new ones at the exhibitors’ reception, which featured booths showcasing materials and services from 25 exhibitors.
The event was such a success that the sponsoring organizations are already planning another conference in 2016.
“There really isn’t another opportunity like the State of Water Conference for citizens looking to get informed about water resource issues and connected to like-minded people” said Alex Gehrig of the Freshwater Society. “We look forward to the opportunity to grow the conference and expand our audience even more in the future.”