Known by some as the “Land of Sky Blue Waters,” Minnesota is the “Land of 10,000 Lakes”; it’s also home to headwaters for 3 major watersheds – Great Lakes, Mississippi River, and Red River. Not one drop of water flows into Minnesota; it all flows outward – north, south, or east.
Water is obviously an important and treasured resource for Minnesotans. Therefore, it provides the cornerstone of a state-wide effort by the Minnesota Environmental Partnership (MEP) to educate and advocate on behalf of the state’s valuable – and vulnerable – water resources. “Protect Our Water” (POW) is the name of the campaign mounted by MEP and the 75+ environmental and conservation groups that make up this state-wide coalition that, all tolled, represents 500,000 Minnesotans.
To turn the tide on the results of years of runoff, pollution, and neglect, MEP drafted an $80 million package that has something for everyone. Twenty-one initiatives comprise the campaign. Elements include making a smart investment for the future by funding conservation bonding projects now; getting fair tax deals for landowners who create conservation easements; and encouraging every Minnesotan to get involved in good stewardship of water resources.
Lake Superior and its watershed would benefit from several of the initiatives. The “Shoreland Buffers” program would protect and restore critical shorelands – including 112 evaluated sites along the North Shore eligible for erosion controls. Two North Shore State Parks would get bigger, and a Scientific Natural Area would protect an old growth pine forest on Duluth’s 7-mile sand spit, Park Point. One program would help more communities address the growing issue of failing septic systems.
As of this writing, the legislative session is still underway, so full results aren’t in yet. A citizen monitoring bill has been signed and passage of mandated use of a phosphorous-free fertilizer looks promising. Bonding initiatives are under negotiation in a conference committee of both legislative houses.
For the first time, legislators heard a unified voice from Minnesota’s environmental community, and, although POW may not have been 100% successful on all 21 initiatives, it has been a good beginning. The coalition’s work planted a good seed for next year’s Health Waters campaign. The health of our waters can no longer be taken for granted; it will take both legislators AND citizens to play a role in creating the solutions that will Protect Our Water.