Water Policy Scholars

The Water Policy Scholars program brings policy researchers across the UW System together with freshwater scientists to frame policy questions and adapt tools to address water resource issues. The program is intended to increase the Center for Water Policy’s capacity to develop interdisciplinary and sustainable solutions to freshwater problems. 

We open an annual Request for Proposals from faculty and determine awards within a month.


Current Scholars

Timothy Ehlinger
2021 Water Policy Scholar

Associate Professor and William Collins Kohler Chair in Systems Change and Peacebuilding, UWM College of Nursing

With competing demands on water resources interacting with climate stress and political polarization, the need for developing agile governance frameworks that can identify feedbacks and engage communities in ecosystem stewardship is great. Dr. Ehlinger’s Water Policy Scholar project will examine the efficacy of participatory systems mapping with stakeholders as a tool for transforming conflict and building deliberative legitimacy. What modes and mechanisms of participatory governance can be engaged to enhance the capacity for local communities to respond adaptively to emergent surface water problems in Wisconsin?  

Conflict over water resources emerges from complex interactions among biophysical, social, and economic processes operating at multiple scales, and efforts to resolve active disagreements all-too-often eventually end up in contested case hearings or court.  Unfortunately, this reliance on order-based legitimacy has become the expected endpoint, making it more difficult to preemptively address latent conflicts surrounding competing uses that are increasing in the face of the unpredictability arising from climate change conflated with socio-political polarization.  Considering issues like cumulative impacts of high-capacity wells, generational turnover in communities, and a directionally changing climate, there is a mismatch between how problems have been solved in the past and how they must be addressed to ensure a sustainable future.   These forces intertwine and are particularly visible in Wisconsin and Lake Beulah, a spring-fed flow through lake in northeastern Walworth County has been a focal point of conflict and the subject of multiple legal challenges and legislative interventions.

Build upon previous work and relationships within the Lake Beulah social-ecological system, Ehlinger’s project will study the operationalization of participatory deliberative legitimacy in water governance.  He will use a participatory system practice as a process to explore the feedbacks and relationships among stakeholder values and perspectives in developing a common language and shared understanding of the Lake Beulah. The work will be conducted in partnership with the Lake Beulah Protection and Improvement Association (LBPIA) and Lake Beulah Management District (LBMD). The work aims to expand participation in local decision-making and build trust between conflicting parties while maintaining legitimacy with local and state authorities such as the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

Dr. Ehlinger is the Wm. Collins Kohler Endowed Chair and Director of the Institute for Systems Change & Peacebuilding at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, where he served as founding director of the Master of Sustainable Peacebuilding (2013-2019) and founding director of the Conservation and Environmental Science program (1996-2004).  After 25 years in the Department of Biological Sciences at UWM, he is currently an associate professor of Systems Ecology for the Center for Global Health Equity in the College of Nursing. Ehlinger received a Ph.D. in Evolutionary Ecology and Behavior at the Kellogg Biological Station of Michigan State University where is research explored the complex ways that individuals, populations and communities respond to disturbance and adapt to changing environments. His work as an aquatic restoration ecologist employs the principles of social-ecological resilience and complex systems thinking to engage communities in holistic visioning, strategic planning and design, project implementation, adaptive management and policy development.  He has worked on projects across Wisconsin as well as internationally in Costa Rica, Romania, the Balkans/Black Sea region, and with community partners in Kenya, Uganda, Guatemala and Ecuador. His publications span topics including adaptive learning and resilience, risk management, stressor-response relationships, community engagement, environmental governance, and implications of policy interventions on ecosystem services, conflict transformation and environmental health.


Past Scholars

Margaret Noodin
2019-20 Water Policy Scholar

Professor, UWM English & American Studies
Director, Electa Quinney Institute for American Indian Education

Watch our World Water Day 2021 Celebration event featuring Dr. Noodin’s work as a Water Policy Scholar, March 17, 2021.

As the 2019-2020 Water Policy Scholar, Professor Noodin led the Mapping Indigenous Connections project, which provides a visual guide to the many Native American nations that are part of the Anishinaabe Confederacy. The Mapping project focuses on more than 140 Ojibwe, Odawa and Potawatomi nations. Linked by the Anishinaabemowin language, these communities are located around the western Great Lakes.  Noodin is interested in finding an approach that integrates the Nations’ valuable perspective around ecosystem resilience in the Basin in the face of economic and climates shifts. Her work helps raise not only a deeper understanding of the Nations, but also could inform important policy issues.

Margaret Noodin received an MFA in Creative Writing and a PhD in English and Linguistics from the University of Minnesota. She is currently a Professor of English and American Indian Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee where she also serves as the Director of the Electa Quinney Institute for American Indian Education. She is the author of Bawaajimo: A Dialect of Dreams in Anishinaabe Language and Literature and Weweni, a collection of bilingual poems in Ojibwe and English. Her recent publications focus on indigenous science and philosophy including: “Gikinomaagemin Gichigaming: Teaching Anishinaabemowin and Ecology in the Great Lakes” and “Surviving the Sixth Extinction: American Indian Strategies for Life in the New World.” She is Co-editor of The Papers of the Algonquian Conference and is an advocate for education and community engagement through relevant research and teaching. In Milwaukee she works with the First Nations Program in the Milwaukee Public Schools, the Milwaukee Water Commons and the Indian Community School.

Ryan Holifield
2018 Water Policy Scholar
Associate Professor, UWM Geography

Ryan Holifield is an associate professor in the UWM Department of Geography and Urban Studies Programs. His research focuses on issues of environmental justice and democratic participation in environmental policy and governance, especially in urban contexts. One current collaborative project investigates geographic dimensions of stakeholder participation in remedial action plans at Great Lakes Areas of Concern: toxic hotspots of contamination and environmental degradation.
The objectives of his participation in the Water Policy Scholars program are both to complete the collaborative project on participation in Great Lakes Areas of Concern and to develop new potential collaborations that could build on this research, take it into new directions, and expand its scope. He is in the process of planning a symposium at the Center focused on issues of participation and justice in Great Lakes and freshwater governance.

James Wasley
2017 Water Policy Scholar
Professor, UWM Architecture

James Wasley is a Professor in the UWM Architecture Department and is the current Director of the Institute for Ecological Design. His research focuses on designing and implementing ecological urban waterscapes.

As a Policy Scholar, Wasley facilitated a design workshop entitled Innovative Practice/Innovative Policy: Setting an Agenda for Advancing Integrative Green Infrastructure in the Great Lakes Basin that drew several nationally-renowned design professionals to Milwaukee in April 2017. Wasley also used his time as a Policy Scholar to develop funding proposals for green infrastructure projects with several Freshwater Sciences collaborators.

Paul Roebber
2016 Water Policy Scholar

Distinguished Professor, UWM Mathematics

Paul Roebber is a Distinguished Professor of Atmospheric Sciences in the UWM Mathematics Department and director of the non-profit Innovative Weather program. He is currently doing research on flash flooding, Great Lakes temperatures and water levels, and application of adaptive learning techniques to forecasting thunderstorms.

Through the Policy Scholars program, Dr. Roebber developed a statistical model that provides insight into the variability of water levels in Lakes Michigan and Superior in the coming decades. This information can help decision makers develop climate-resilient policy regarding coastal development and erosion, energy production, water treatment, and many other social and economic factors linked to fluctuating lake levels.

Scott Graham
2016 Water Policy Scholar

Associate Professor, English, University of Texas at Austin

Scott Graham is an associate professor at the University of Texas at Austin. He researches how scientific experts and public stakeholders communicate about matters of risk and uncertainty as part of science-policy deliberation. His current projects involve investigating the influence of public advocacy groups on regulatory decision-making and analyzing the FDA’s environmental review of the most popular pharmaceuticals products.

As a Policy Scholar, Dr. Graham focused on building the Public Engagement and Science Communication (PESC) lab, which sought to provide an interdisciplinary approach to science communication research, communications education, and stakeholder outreach, with particular attention to water science and policy.