Monday, January 30th, 2023
Monday, January 30th, 2023

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Water woes need long-term solution

Field Editor

St. Cloud, Minn. Minnesota’s continuing declines in water
quality must be addressed or the federal government will take
actions that could have long-term economic impacts for the state,
state Rep. Dennis Ozment told participants at the DNR Roundtable
Saturday in St. Cloud.

The state has a growing list of “Impaired Waters,” so named
because the total maximum daily load (TDML) of pollutants exceeds
the standards of the federal Clean Water Act. Although only 12
percent of the state’s waters have been monitored by the Minnesota
Pollution Control Agency, more than 2,000 streams and water bodies
are on the Impaired Waters list.

“We have to make progress at restoring water quality,” Ozment
said. “If we don’t have a plan in place, the federal government can
step in and stop further development that would add to the
impairment.”

Clean up costs are estimated at $75 million to $100 million
annually or nearly $1 billion for next 10 years. Funding water
quality improvements through a tax increase could cost $150
annually for every business and $36 per household. One of Gov.
Pawlenty’s goals is to secure a long-term funding source to pay for
Impaired Waters restorations.

Speaking as a roundtable participant, Ozment said one possible
solution would be to combine the Impaired Waters program with the
ongoing effort to dedicate 3/16ths of the state sales tax to fish
and game funding. By doubling the amount to 3/8ths, the long-term
funding needs of both conservation agendas could be addressed. He
proposed the 3/8ths be added to the existing sales tax to eliminate
criticism that it would be taking money from other programs. Since
the new tax would be placed on the ballot as a constitutional
amendment, it would be up to voters to decide if they wanted to
raise their taxes to protect the environment.

Clean water is the centerpiece of the governor’s environmental
agenda. Tim Scherkenbach of the Environmental Quality Board gave an
overview of the Governor’s Clean Water Initiative. Minnesota’s
water resources include 14,000 lakes, 92,000 miles of rivers and
streams, and 217,000 miles of shoreline, which is more than any
state other than Alaska.

Scherkenbach said the initiative has two elements: initiating
water improvement projects and finding new funding for water
issues.

Goals include ensuring safe drinking water and developing an
accurate picture of the state’s impaired waters. On-the-ground
efforts will have a watershed focus and be targeted at providing
tangible results.

The governor has drawn leaders from a number of state agencies
together to form a “water cabinet,” composed of the departments of
Agriculture, Health, and Natural Resources, the Board of Water and
Soil Resources, the Pollution Control Agency, the Metropolitan
Council, and the Environmental Quality Board. Scherkenbach says the
combined agencies can provide significant existing funding to move
forward with the initiative.

Four pilot projects address varied water issues: Flooding in the
Red River Valley, drinking water in the metropolitan area,
development on Central Minnesota lakes, and impaired waters in
southeastern Minnesota. Projects will be completed on relatively
short timelines within the governor’s term of office. The intent is
to use the pilots as a starting point to address broader, statewide
concerns.

John Stine reported on the Central Minnesota Lakes Pilot
Project, which is intended to address issues associated with
intensive shoreland development. Covering Aitkin, Cass, Crow Wing,
Hubbard, and Itasca counties, the project has wide-ranging goals to
better protect lakes from development. One eventual outcome may be
updating and revising the state’s 20-year-old shoreland management
rules.

The enormity of environmental damage associated with shoreline
development was apparent in presentations by the DNR Ecological
Services Division. Large homes, complete with suburban-style lawns
and landscaping, line the shores of many lakes, eliminating both
shoreline and aquatic habitat. Polluted run-off and erosion from
homesites diminish lake water quality.

Many efforts are underway to educate local governments and
homeowners about better land-use practices, such as shoreline
buffer strips, using native plants and minimizing lawns in
landscaping, protecting aquatic vegetation, and establishing
conservation easements for remaining undeveloped shorelines.

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