MWRF is Making a Difference in Minnesota Water Research
The Minnesota Water Research Fund (MWRF), established by CEGE alumnus and water industry leader BERNIE BULLERT, has been providing support for research in the areas of water resource management and water treatment for five years.
Just five years ago, Bernie Bullert (BCE 1968, MBA 1977) embarked on a journey to create a water research fund at the University of Minnesota. Today MWRF is thriving and making an impact in Minnesota.
Bullert’s commitment to clean water began early. Bullert grew up on a Minnesota dairy farm and was the first in his family to graduate from college. Following college, Bullert got a job with Saint Paul Regional Water Resources where he spent 35 years, climbing the ranks to general manager, a position he held for 12 years. He later became director of water treatment and distribution services for the City of Minneapolis. Now he consults part time.
“WATER IS VITAL TO EVERYONE’S HEALTH AND TO BUSINESS AND INDUS-TRY. WATER RESOURCES ARE IMPACTED BY HUMAN ACTIVITY WHICH CHANGES THE AMOUNT AND QUALITY OF WATER AVAILABLE FOR ALL WATER NEEDS ON THE PLANET. THESE IMPACTS ON WATER NEED TO BE RESEARCHED, SO WE CONTINUE TO HAVE ADEQUATE SUPPLIES OF QUALITY WATER.” – BERNIE BULLERT
Throughout his career, Bullert saw that smaller communities were often not able to perform their own applied research or to benefit from research performed in larger water districts. In 2015, Bullert put into action an idea he’d been pondering for a while. He formed the MWRF as a way to sustain water research with a focus on making research findings available to smaller communities and rural areas. Bullert’s passion for sustainable water systems, his natural leadership abilities, and his commitment to hard work led him to lay big plans for the MWRF. MWRF’s vision is to enable the University of Minnesota to be a na-tional leader in innovative water research, to improve public health, and to protect Minnesota’s water resources. The MWRF aims to ensure that the next generation of water industry leaders are able to make decisions grounded in solid research.
The MWRF Advisory Committee is composed of UMN alumni and industry professionals who have a deep commitment to supporting water research in Minnesota and who believe strongly in MWRF’s mission and goals. Advisory Board members include Bernie Bullert (Chair), Michelle Stockness (Vice Chair), David Allen, Lisa Cerney, Tricia Christensen, Bo Johnston, Andrew Ohrt, Naeem Qureshi, Karl Streed, Stew Thornley, and Shannon Wolkerstorfer. MWRF is actively supported by industry experts and alumni of the Department of Civil, Environmental, and Geo- Engineering (CEGE).
The Fund has been meeting its short-term goal of providing annual research grants for UMN faculty and students working in water treatment and water resource management. The Fund emphasizes emerging research and providing seed funding for projects that do not yet have other funding sources. Each year the advisory committee reviews project requests and recommends one or two projects for funding. True to Bullert’s roots, many of the funded research projects address problems unique to Minnesota and its rural areas. So far, MWRF has made annual distributions in the range of $5,000–$10,000. These funds have supported eight research projects plus the purchase of ISCO Automated Water Sampling Devices for use in both research and teaching CEGE students. The fund has positively impacted multiple UMN professors, graduate students, and undergraduate students who work on these research projects.
While the fund continues to support research projects, Bullert and the Advisory Committee have also been pursuing their long-term goals of establishing permanent funding and enabling the next generation of water industry leaders to make decisions grounded in solid research. The long-term funding goal is to raise $2 million to create an endowed chair to support a UMN faculty member who is an international leader in the field of water research.
MWRF started just five short years ago as the vision of one man. Today, MWRF can boast that it has provided funding for several projects; educated many students and water professionals; raised funds toward its long-term goal of an endowed chair at UMN, and positively impacted students, researchers, and rural water professionals and their communities. MWRF is committed to supporting and encouraging ongoing water research that will enhance Minnesota’s economy and the health of Minnesota citizens, both now and for future generations.
Research. MWRF’s main mission is to provide sustained funding for UMN water research and to develop innovative research that will improve water treatment technologies and water quality in the environment.
Education. MWRF is a proponent of industry education, believing that research should be applied in the field. The fund hosts regular educational events for students and professionals interested in the state of water. Last year’s event was virtual and highlighted the UMN Water Council, a new interdisciplinary team bringing together UMN scholars and resources to tackle the pressing concern of access to clean water in the 21st Century.
Fundraising. Fundraising is vital to the mission of the MWRF. To date, the largest fundraising event supporting MWRF has been Give to the Max Day (November 17 in 2022), when Minnesotans come together to donate to nonprofits and schools across the state. Moving forward, the Advisory Council is working hard to establish permanent funding, and they are exploring partnership models to cultivate and incorporate industry support.
Note: This article was adapted from original by Tricia Christensen, MWRF Advisory Committee member.