Overdue Examination of an Overlooked Problem
Minnesota is the “land of sky blue waters,” home to 10,000 lakes, the headwaters of three major continental watersheds (Mississippi River, Great Lakes, and Red River of the North), and basis for Garrison Keillor’s “Lake Wobegon.” There’s no way that state could have a water problem, right?
Publicity over the past year has focused on the shrinking of White Bear Lake, the centerpiece of prosperous suburbs northeast of St. Paul. Closer examination shows, though, that Minnesotans are increasingly drawing on groundwater to slake their ever-growing thirst. As Minnesota Public Radio journalist Dave Peters notes, the state DNR reports “unprecedented water use conflicts” emerging between businesses, towns, and individual homeowners. Agriculture undoubtedly is in the mix also.
Peters directs a community journalism project called Ground Level, which uses multiple forms of media, derived from diverse sources, to provide detailed explorations of issues directly affecting Minnesota’s communities. A previous study examined water quality issues across the state.
“Beneath the Surface,” Ground Level’s exploration of groundwater issues, is just getting started. Note particularly the link that is posted to a survey “Help us explore Minnesota’s groundwater challenge.” Hopefully, there will be a robust set of responses generated that will raise questions from multiple perspectives.
The connection between this Ground Level initiative and the Mississippi River is subtle, but important. It’s easy to forget that all of our water makes up one system, so the fate of groundwater affects the fate of the Mississippi, and vice versa. There has already been some loose talk about drawing water from the Mississippi to “refill” White Bear Lake, for example.
There are literally thousands of people committed to improving the health of the Mississippi River. The sooner we can learn to see the river as part of a much bigger system, only a fraction of which is visible in the actual river bed, the sooner we’ll be able to really treat the river as a river, not just a wet playground, or a highway, or some other reductive figure of our imagination.