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In early 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic spurred the rapid adaptation of university course delivery to an online format. Though in-person delivery partially resumed in the Fall of 2021, future conditions may favor a return to, or addition of, remote delivery. It is therefore important for instructors, program directors, and institutions to capitalize on this learning opportunity and reflect on adaptation measures’ successes (and failures) to inform future online course design. The reworking of McGill University’s Master of Science Program in Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM) provides a case study to evaluate the adaptation of remote teaching of water resource management. Informed by the Community of Inquiry (CoI) framework with a focus on preserving transferable skills, a Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats (SWOT) analysis was used to evaluate the five core program components. This evaluation framework, which can be applied to most university programs, resulted in several widely relevant insights. For example, remote delivery can create opportunities for greater participation of international students as it eliminates the need for translocation costs. Likewise, a larger variety of guest speakers can participate remotely, giving students greater exposure to different water career paths and research perspectives, ultimately strengthening the program. However, several weaknesses pose threats to online learning. The standard in-person lecture-style format must therefore be amended to maintain engagement and facilitate student-to-student and student-to-instructor learning processes. Course components that can enhance the online experience include breakout rooms, discussion boards, frequent journals/feedback forms, online activities, breaks, virtual office hours, and multi-media presentations.
The Coastal Bend (CB), Lower Rio Grande Valley (LRGV), and Wintergarden (WG) subregions of south Texas co-exist in similar socio-economic contexts but rely on markedly different water sources (CB: precipitation; LRGV: surface water; WG: groundwater). This has led to unique agricultural practices and municipal policies and reinforced mental models adapted specifically to each subregion, both of which are critical to understanding structural causes behind current water use and future water sustainability. To better stakeholder mental models in each subregion, semi-structured interviews were conducted with individuals with a significant stake in water resource use and management. Results indicated near unanimous consensus among farmers and other stakeholders that water supply is limited and will be increasingly stressed under continued urban population growth. Farmers expressed concern that it will become more difficult to continue farming if additional water resources are not available, while each subregion expressed their own unique concerns: growing bureaucratic oversight and growing population problems (CB), lack of inflows, poor water quality, and international disputes with Mexico (LRGV), and political subdivision, declining groundwater levels, and information technology costs (WG). Mental models were synthesized based on dominant themes expressed by respondents; we synthesized these into two systems thinking archetypes: Tragedy of the Commons and Success to the Successful. Though it is unreasonable to create blanket region-wide policies, the adoption of under-utilized conservation practices coupled to stakeholder outreach remains unexplored leverage points, given most stakeholders are unaware of the feedback processes continuing to threaten south Texas water resources.
Fecal indicator bacteria are routinely used to assess surface water sanitary quality. The State of Texas uses Total Maximum Daily Loads to address water bodies that exceed the allowable fecal indicator bacteria criteria. The effectiveness of these processes in decreasing the fecal indicator bacteria concentrations has been debated due to the diversity and nature of fecal indicator bacteria sources. We assessed actual and flow-adjusted trends in measured Escherichia coli (E. coli) concentrations at 721 freshwater stream sites from 2001 through 2021. We also compared odds of statistical improvement of E. coli concentrations at sites before and after the adoption of Total Maximum Daily Loads (adopted from 2008 through 2014). Results indicate non-significant differences in the odds of statistically detected improvements in E. coli concentration between pre-Total Maximum Daily Load and post-Total Maximum Daily Load sites. Although the State of Texas and numerous watershed stakeholders have made efforts to address water quality impairments, these results join a body of evidence that water quality improvements are stagnating in the state. Furthermore, this study leverages water quality data used for state water quality standards assessment purposes and highlights that robust monitoring program design is needed to effectively assess the progress of water quality planning efforts.
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