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Local lessons on water quality

University of Minnesota-Morris students Francis Reed (left) and Ben Odegaard (right) are working and job-shadowing in Douglas County this summer, focusing on water quality issues. Earlier this month, they joined Steve Henry, a water plan and land use technician for Douglas Soil and Water Conservation District, to meet with Karen Otto, a homeowner on Lake Chippewa who has experienced water runoff on her property this summer. (Amy Chaffins/Echo Press)

This summer, two students from the University of Minnesota-Morris (UMM) – Francis Reed and Ben Odegaard – are job-shadowing water quality professionals in Douglas County.

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They’re checking boats for aquatic invasive species and tagging along, observing interaction with landowners, learning about the process involved in water quality improvement projects and more.

For example, last week, they shadowed Steven Henry, a water plan and land use technician for Douglas Soil and Water Conservation District. They did stream testing and checked into runoff reduction projects on lakes Chippewa and Rachel.

“I hope they walk away understanding it’s a whole network,” Henry said.

As water quality scientists, project planners and policy makers, he said, they’ll need the support of a network of governmental entities and the public.

“[As environmental scientists] we always think of water quality as an equation, but really, when you get the public in there, anything we want to do, we need willing partners,” Henry told the students.

Odegaard, a senior this fall, is majoring in environmental studies and Reed, a junior, is studying environmental science.

The work is both an internship and summer job for the students.


The opportunity to be “hands-on” in the field people are studying can deliver some powerful lessons.

Both Reed and Odegaard said they’ve already learned a lot so far this summer.

“It all synergizes because it’s all part of the water cycle and drainage and how it’s changing through generations,” Reed said.

Water quality hasn’t always been a concern, he added, but, “Now we’re realizing the implications of building these big properties that don’t have proper drainage and we’re trying to work toward incorporating that with building nowadays – preventing rather than treating it.”

“That’s what I found interesting; we’re now paying for our mistakes,” Odegaard said.

Before transferring to UMM, Odegaard attended sales and marketing classes at Alexandria Technical and Community College.

“The main thing is you have to sell your product [to landowners],” he said. “Once they’re comfortable with you, you can do a big [water quality] project and they’re more gung-ho, like, ‘Yeah let’s do this.’”


The students’ summer job pay and travel expenses are funded through a grant.

Alexandria resident Dian Lopez, a retired computer science professor at UMM, wrote the grant that pays the students’ wages and expenses.

“Well, I’m a student-person. I loved working in Morris and I loved working with students,” she told the Echo Press.

She’s also a past-president of the Ida Lake Association and said water quality is part of the students’ focus; they’re also helping with the association’s newsletter and aquatic invasive species detection.

The students are employed through UMM’s Center for Small Towns.

Amy Chaffins

Amy Chaffins is a journalist working for the Echo Press newspaper in Alexandria, Minnesota.

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