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A watershed way of thinking

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Scientific explorer and geographer John Wesley Powell (1834-1902) described a watershed as "that area of land, a bounded hydrologic system, within which all living things are inextricably linked by their common water course and where, as humans settled, simple logic demanded that they become part of a community."

Karen Terry, Extension educator, is working to help people understand their role in a watershed community through the Watershed Education Program.

Watersheds don't fit neatly into county borders. When counties work together--through a watershed plan--they are more effective in reaching water quality goals. This is a smart infrastructure shift, but getting there is a struggle. Education is vital to make it happen.

Fortunately for Karen, teaching is her favorite part of the job. "I love the moment when people get it. Or when I'm working with a group of people who maybe didn't want to be there, but by the end of the class you can see they're engaged and they understand."

In the Watershed Education Program, the main audience is decision makers including natural resource professionals, soil and water districts, DNR, PCA, county commissioners, and board of adjustment.

"We teach them to understand the impacts," said Karen. This helps give decision makers confidence to make decisions that help protect the water.

"I had a member of a board of adjustment in a county who took a stream class I taught. He later was approving or denying variances. He told me, 'Taking the class gave me the confidence to tell people that I learned that's a bad thing for the river.' [The program] gives them education, credibility, and confidence."

Going forward, Karen hopes to see more people thinking about water as a system. It is also essential that people take more responsibility and value water as a limited resource.

"As Minnesotans, we think we have lots of water, but we don't. It is a limited resource."

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