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Minnesota Has a Water Problem

March 16, 2015Patrick NunnallyRiversComments Off on Minnesota Has a Water Problem

Actually, we have (at least) two, both of which have been receiving a lot of media attention lately.  Not surprisingly, both are to one degree or another being framed as questions about how much regulation is “too much,” or, to put it another way, where the line between “public” and “private” spheres lies.

The first case is one where the MN legislature is trying to exert greater influence over how environmental regulations, particularly water rules, are administered.  As this article from the Minneapolis Star-Tribune reports, a number of specific players are interested in less-burdensome clean water restrictions.  I’m sorry, but I have to wonder when was the last time someone complained about water being “too clean.”

The other case being discussed now is perhaps more interesting.  Agriculture has long been a “third rail” in Minnesota politics, shunned by politicians on the left and right who don’t want to be accused of getting in the way of the “family farmer” who “feeds the world” (but whose corn crop more likely feeds cattle, ethanol plants, or high fructose corn syrup).  It seems that most farmers in the state are not providing the 50 foot buffer between crop land and waterways that state law requires.  Last week, the governor officially called for standardizing Minnesota’s buffer strip rules as a means of protecting water quality across the state.

The pushback was, of course, swift and strong.  The proposal has been described as “aggressive” by agricultural commodity groups, whereas sportsmen have joined with clean water advocates in support of the plan.  It turns out that buffer strips often make up ideal habitat for an array of bird and animal species.

The legislature is just now getting down to serious business, so there’s no telling where this question will end up.  But one overlooked silver lining to the political disputes is that Minnesotans are talking, and talking seriously, about water.  For too long, we have thought we had enough water that was clean enough to do whatever we wanted, when, and wherever we want to.  After all, we’re not California, right?

Water problems come in many shapes and sizes, as we know.  Left untended, they become water crises.  News articles about water disputes are having an impact in terms of raising “water literacy” levels for all; just witness this really informative Q&A about agriculture and buffer strips, and the diagram of how buffer strips work.

Those two should be required reading at high schools and colleges across the state.  As Governor Dayton said several weeks ago “The land may be yours, but the water belongs to all of us.”


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