Guest ecologist speaker talks of the importance of watershed

On Monday, Sept. 18, ecologist Sarah Hobbie came to Minnesota State University, Mankato as a part of the Leonard A. Ford Lectureship.

Jeff Pribyl, professor in the Department of Chemistry and Geology and coordinator for the Leonard A. Ford lectureship, explained the history and purpose of this lectureship.

“It was established 28 years ago. The family of Leonard Ford donated money to establish a lectureship in his name and in his honor,” Pribyl said. “The goal of the lectureship is to bring a nationally or internationally known chemist or scientist to campus for a series of talks.”

Although Hobbie is an ecologist, her work does relate to chemistry.

“She talks about the carbon cycle, about where atoms [and] molecules go in our environment,” said Pribyl.

Hobbie gave two lectures in the Ostrander Auditorium. Her first lecture was directed toward students of science and chemistry, while the second lecture was more general and geared toward the public. The second talk was titled, “Trees, Pets, and People: a watershed approach to understanding urban water pollution.”

Hobbie gave a short summary of this talk, stating, “We’ve done some analyses at the watershed scale of trying to understand where those nutrient pollutants are coming from and how they’re moving from land to our urban waterways.”

Hobbie is a professor at the University of Minnesota. Although her research focuses on watersheds in Saint Paul, she explained, “I think what we are learning is actually applicable to cities more broadly than just Saint Paul.”

Hobbie stressed the importance of watershed and why it is important.

“Watershed is all of the area that drains to a particular point,” she explained. “In urban systems, most of our watersheds are buried in sewers instead of draining to rivers, streams, or lakes. Our urban lands drain to storm sewers.”

“The majority of input of nutrients to urban watersheds are coming from activities associated with households,” she further noted. “In particular, fertilizers from people’s yards, and also pet waste. Individual decisions about management are really important at the watershed scale. Trees are really important because they are effective at moving nutrients from urban landscapes and into our streets and storm sewer systems.”

Since pollutants from our yards are draining into the sewer systems and into our water, we need to be responsible about what we are putting or leaving in our yards. It is important to clean up after your pet, limit fertilizer, and clean up leaves that might end up in the gutters.

Pribyl explained why it is important for students and community members to attend talks like these: “We need an educated public. Our public needs to understand science, and these general talks are really geared towards the general public so that they have an understanding of the issues related to science and ecology in this case. What’s happened to our environment, and what are we doing to solve those problems? Science isn’t just about creating problems, it’s really about solving problems.”

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