Viewpoint: Help shape the state's water policy

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Angie Hong is an educator for East Metro Water. Contact her at 651-330-8220, ext. 35, or angie.hong@mnwcd.org.

What do you love most about Minnesota's water and what are your biggest concerns? Earlier this year, Gov. Mark Dayton announced an initiative to reduce water pollution in Minnesota by 25 percent by the year 2025. A supporting bill was introduced to the Legislature by Republican Sen. Carrie Ruud, who is chair of the Environment and Natural Resources Policy and Legacy Finance committee. Without additional action, the quality of Minnesota's waters is expected to improve only 6 to 8 percent by 2034.

To jumpstart this new initiative, known as "25x25," the governor's office has been holding regional town hall meetings across the state to learn what water issues people are most concerned about and to get ideas for how to accelerate existing water restoration efforts. The last of these meetings will be held from 6:30-8:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 5, at the Stillwater Area High School. Next week, there will be a meeting in Woodbury.

"All Minnesotans have a stake in water that's safe for drinking, swimming, and fishing," Dayton said. "These town hall meetings will further the important conversations already happening across Minnesota around water quality. Together we can develop strategies and solutions that work for all of our communities."

In addition to town hall meetings, the governor's office has also encouraged citizen groups to organize smaller "community water meetings" as a way for neighbors to talk about local water issues in their communities. Feedback from the town hall and community water meetings will be incorporated into the final report and policy recommendations developed by the governor and Legislature.

On Sept. 6, the St. Croix Valley Women's Alliance held a community water meeting at the Stillwater Library, attended by 30 people from the Stillwater area. Many of the issues identified at the meeting were local and specific:

"I'm concerned that there are unsafe levels of lead in the drinking water at our local schools."

"I see so much algae growing in Lake McKusick and it's not safe to swim in Lily Lake anymore."

"I worry about nitrates in our groundwater and making sure that the water from private wells is safe to drink."

However, people also shared concerns about upstream actions that could affect water quality in the region, such as the proposed Enbridge Line 3 oil pipeline, and also spoke about statewide issues like reducing agricultural runoff pollution, conserving groundwater resources, and protecting the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.

Later this month, there will be additional community water meetings in White Bear Lake, Woodbury and Marine on St. Croix. The meeting in White Bear Lake will be held from 6:30-8:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 21, at the White Bear Lake City Hall and will include introductory comments from the mayors of White Bear Lake and Mahtomedi. Afterward, staff from Conservation Minnesota will facilitate small group conversations about local water issues. Conservation Minnesota will also host the community water meeting Tuesday, Sept. 26, at R.H. Stafford Library in Woodbury. The meetings are free and open to the public.

Minnesota is a state with abundant water resources and we've worked hard over the years to protect and restore our water. Ours is the only state with legislation allowing for the formation of watershed districts and leads the nation in many water education and restoration efforts. In addition to the Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund, which is funded by the Minnesota Lottery, voters also approved a 2008 amendment to the state constitution dedicating a portion of our sales tax to protecting drinking water sources; restoring and protecting wildlife habitat; preserving arts and cultural heritage; supporting parks and trails; and protecting and restoring lakes, rivers, streams, and groundwater. These funding mechanisms have helped state and local governments to monitor water quality, develop new technologies for reducing water pollution, and work with private landowners to implement clean water projects around the state.

Though there is a lot of work already underway, it is important for citizens and stakeholders to provide feedback so that the state can craft supportive policy for cleaner water in the future.

Learn more about the 25x25 project at www.eqb.state.mn.us/content/25-2025-overview.