Minnesota Water Stewards: learning, taking action

Since 2013, Freshwater has connected with local partners in cities, counties and watershed organizations to develop and deliver water stewardship education – our Master Water Stewards Program. Every year, groups of community volunteers attend classes and workshops in watershed science, water quantity and water quality, water policy and regulation. Upon certification, stewards then translate their learning into action for water protection or restoration in their community through a capstone project. Almost 400 people across Minnesota have been certified since the program began, and their project results have been inspiring and impressive: water-filtering rain gardens, water-conserving rain barrel programs, citizen-led groundwater conservation, slowed groundwater pollution from road salt use and creation of community art projects.

What’s new? After gathering ideas and input from certified water stewards and our local partners about ways to improve the program for the past two years, I’m excited to share our plans for 2020-21 and beyond for our Minnesota Water Stewards adult volunteer training and education program. We are discontinuing the use of “Master” in the title of the program. We did this based on feedback and our focus on reducing racial bias and barriers to diverse participation as stated in our Freshwater 2020-2025 Strategic Plan.

What’s so exciting about these changes? First, the changes respond to the feedback we have heard from participants and partners of this volunteer education and leadership program. Second, the changes will reduce barriers to participation for both individuals and organizations, leading to more people participating and taking action for water protection and restoration where they live, work and play.

In addition, the Coronavirus pandemic has created an opportunity for us to convert the program to a more streamlined, online learning format. Freshwater will continue planning and facilitating the program, and we will launch the 2021 class of Minnesota Water Stewards in January 2021 offering the same curriculum in a revised training format that includes:

  • a kick-off virtual workshop/introductory class
  • independent online course study
  • and a concluding workshop in May 2021 to lead into capstone work
  • October Confluence of Water Stewards gathering (virtual event) – a fun way to highlight learning, celebrate accomplishments and connect certified water stewards from all classes.

Get more information and apply for the 2021 class. We are accepting applications for the 2021 class of MN Water Stewards on a rolling basis immediately. We’re also glad to announce that we will continue to accept applications for the second year for our artist cohort of Minnesota Water Stewards. To learn more about the 2021 class, attend one of the online information sessions below. Register here.

  • Tuesday, October 13, 2020, 5:00 pm
  • Tuesday, October 27, 2020, 12:00 pm
  • Tuesday, November 10, 2020, 5:00 pm
  • Tuesday, November 17, 2020, 12:00 pm

Beyond 2021. Our plans for the future will take the program even further; in fact, based on feedback, we plan to adjust three key elements for the longer term:

  • Freshwater will review and adapt the online course material into a format that is even more friendly and accessible, offering independent learning. Water Steward certification will be available upon completion of the online course and a reported project. Participants can complete this training supported by a partner organization or independently.
  • Applicants will pay a greatly reduced tuition (perhaps as low as $300). Scholarships or sponsorship could come through watershed districts, lake associations, non-profits, or other organizations.
  • Freshwater will support interested partners in creating leadership opportunities within the Water Steward community to connect new and seasoned Stewards, provide mentoring, suggest and participate in continuing education opportunities, and share project ideas and activities. The Mississippi Watershed Management Organization has been pioneering this leadership effort since 2019 with impressive results.

So, there it is. Many changes are in store for Freshwater’s water stewardship, and we cannot wait to get going so more people, places and projects can participate in this new approach to inspiring local action for freshwater protection and restoration. Lastly, a sincere “thank you” to the dozens of certified stewards and partner organizations who have given their time and talent to help us build the MWS program and offer these program improvements.

– John Linc Stine, executive director