Big Changes (1991–2004)

In the early 1990s, the shift to more fully embrace groundwater as part of the picture continued. Freshwater developed The Great Lakes Groundwater Information System and convened a national groundwater conference. Other issues emerging around this time included septic systems, lawn care, acid rain, lake levels, water reuse, mercury poisoning and drinking water safety.

Then, in 1995, a big change was thrust upon the organization. The University of Minnesota withdrew its research staff to campus and transferred ownership of the Navarre facility back to the foundation. The massive building, which had helped train more than 45 Ph.D. students over the years, was suddenly transformed into a supersize office for a handful of staff whose biggest responsibilities were to publish the Freshwater Journal — and figure out how to pay the supersize bills.

Despite the challenges, two initiatives emerged during this period that helped Freshwater maintain and even enhance our visibility and value to the public.

One revolved around road deicing chemicals’ impact on surface and groundwater. Among the earliest to recognize and address the threat to aquatic ecosystems and water quality, Freshwater teamed with Fortin Consulting in 2000 to organize a Road Salt Symposium for peer-to-peer transfer of best practices designed to minimize road salt use.

Second, in 2005, the organization sponsored a “Water is Life” Art Contest for Minnesota high school students as part of a continuing effort to focus on the importance of safeguarding and protecting water. A series of scholarships were provided to students who created an art project that expressed the relationship of water to life. The focus on outreach continued with the initiation of a Certified Training Institute for K­–12 teachers in 2004 and production of two 30-minute broadcast television programs.

In 2002 and 2003, two events brought new hope to Freshwater. First, a major bequest from Mary Elizabeth “Penny” Pennock, daughter of the founder of the Tennant Company, helped relieve the financial pinch created by taking on ownership of the Navarre facility.

Second, in 2003 the Foundation rented the bulk of the Freshwater Center to Cargill for use as food research laboratories. Cargill found the state-of-art laboratories an excellent fit for its research and development programs.

The Great Lakes Groundwater Information System was also known as GWIS — pronounced “gee-whiz”— for short.