Research, then outreach (1975­–1980)

The foundation turned over the new 52,000-square-foot Freshwater Biological Institute (renamed the Gray Institute for Freshwater Biology in 1978 and the Gray Freshwater Center in 1995) to the University of Minnesota in 1976. Dedicated to improving understanding of freshwater biology, the institute conducted multidisciplinary research, trained scientists, provided laboratory space for visiting scientists and maintained a freshwater library.

Research carried out at the Institute was both wide and deep. Projects back then investigated nitrogen fixation, lignin degradation, connections between asbestos and cancer, strategies for controlling algae, bacteria that eat motorboat oil, and more. In the late 1970s and early 1980s the foundation also had a major focus on research aimed at combating Dutch elm disease, which was destroying elm trees across the U.S. at the time.

Despite the primary emphasis on research in these years, the foundation also advanced the cause of freshwater through outreach and education. After Twin Cities meteorologist Bruce Watson proposed sharing weather records with the public, for example, Gray rounded up funding to publish a weather almanac in 1975.

Two years later, publication of the first issue of the Journal of Freshwater marked the beginning of refocus for the foundation. Recognizing that the purposes of many of the original articles of incorporation had been fulfilled, the board had adopted a new set of articles that not only continued to support Freshwater and freshwater research globally, but also included sharing scientific information with the public. The organization also stepped up efforts to connect the public, academic, political and business sectors to work together in freshwater’s favor.

Acting on this evolving mandate, Freshwater co-sponsored its first international conference, “Water: Our Delicate Life Membrane,” in the late 1970s. The weather almanac gave rise to the now-famous Weatherguide calendar, reaching thousands — and eventually millions — of Minnesotans with its overarching message that we are among, and a part of, the constellations and natural cycles the Weatherguide brilliantly showcases.

In December 1978 the foundation established the Freshwater Society as a membership arm and anchor for the growing focus on connecting the public with science. The following year we held a Year of Water Awareness, convening state agencies and organizations around the common goal of freshwater stewardship.

As the decade turned, the institute, foundation and society were in growth mode, with funds from society membership used to support research at the institute. Diverse though their individual efforts were, all three shared Gray’s original goal of keeping freshwater useable.