Wishing won’t make it so

Posted by .

“Clean, fresh water is vital to all life.

It is key to our image of who we are as Minnesotans and what we want for our children, and it is essential for our regional and national economies.

Despite our wealth of water in Minnesota, we cannot presume our access to unspoiled drinking water is sustainable into the future.  We know our rivers, lakes and streams are contaminated by runoff from sources near and far.”

So begins the Executive Summary of a new report released by the Freshwater Society, entitled “Water is Life: Protecting a Critical Resource for Future Generations.”

In just one week, we’ll all be asked whether we want to make a commitment to maintaining Minnesota’s sky blue waters or instead continue to follow the path to a mythical place where we can watch funding for water quality programs fade away and still expect good results, which is what some folks would like us to believe.

Last week I watched the Taxpayers League’s TV ad – former U.S. Senator Rod Grams stands near a body of water and explains that water quality has actually improved in Minnesota over the last several years.  The words “Decades of effort show improvement,” attributed to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) in September of 2007, are flashed on the screen.  This is the only “data” used to back up the former senator’s claim.

Add to former Senator Gram’s reassurances a recent MPR story about the Minnesota Department of Health recalculating fish consumption advisories, stating that it’s safe to eat more fish than previously thought.

I guess our water quality problems are solved!

But wait a minute!  The MPCA has reported that forty percent of the lakes, rivers and streams tested have been found to be polluted – to NOT meet water quality standards.  And the MPCA hasn’t even tested all of Minnesota’s waters.  Imagine what they’ll find as they continue to test more lakes and rivers.

And what about the fact that atrazine, an agricultural herbicide widely used in Minnesota, is showing up in pristine Northern Minnesota lakes (including the Boundary Waters), far from agricultural sources?

And if you read the MPR story about new fish consumption guidelines, you’ll see that the Department of Health doesn’t state that Minnesota’s lakes, rivers and streams are actually any cleaner now, resulting in fish that are safer to eat.  Instead, the Department of Health said that the benefits of eating more fish are great, so people should be encouraged to eat more fish.  The Department of Health can’t say how much eating more fish will benefit us, but they feel confident saying that the benefits will outweigh the increased level of risk potentially created by eating more fish from waters that aren’t necessarily any cleaner than when the previous consumption guidelines were created.

Are we supposed to now ignore the fact that perfluorochemicals (PFCs) have been found in fish tissue in several Twin Cities lakes and in fish from the Mississippi River between St. Paul and Winona?

Should we overlook the fact that mercury pollution contaminates lakes and rivers throughout Minnesota, including those not directly located by coal-burning power plants? (According to the MPCA, mercury impairments account for two-thirds of the surface waters in Minnesota that did not meet the federal water-quality standards in 2006.)

And it’s not as if there are giant piles of money gathering dust in a warehouse, just waiting to be used to protect and restore Minnesota’s lakes, rivers and streams.  In fact, just the opposite is true.

Of the one-time funds allocated to environment and energy for 2008-09, the largest share went to pay for lake and river clean-up required under the Clean Water Legacy Act. The Legislature allocated a total of $53.9 million in fiscal year 2008 ($49.3 million one-time funds in the Environment & Energy bill, $4.3 million one-time funds for the Department of Agriculture and Public Facilities Authority, and $300,000 in ongoing funds for the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency). Any unused funds will carry forward to FY 2009, but beginning in 2010 and beyond, there is no source of funding for Clean Water Legacy work and its funding drops to essentially zero.

And it’s not just water programs that are feeling the pinch – the forecast is grim for great outdoors funding in general.  While the needs continue to grow, funding for our natural resources continues to shrink.

Since 2001, the share of state general funds allocated to conservation has declined steadily, reaching a low point of just one percent in 2006. The one-time funds in 2008-09 result in temporary improvement, but by 2010 conservation funding (including both direct and open general fund appropriations) will drop to less than one percent of all state general fund spending for the first time ever, a 30-year low.

What about the state lottery money?  Isn’t that supposed to go to our natural resources?

Since the state lottery was created, the dedication of the money has changed, with only 26.4 cents of every dollar coming back to the state, more than half of which goes to the general fund .  This means that only about 12 percent of the total funds raised through the lottery are actually going to our lakes, rivers, streams, natural areas, fish and game, and parks and trails – or about 12 cents of every one dollar ticket.

And because the allocation of the lottery proceeds was written into statute, not the state constitution, the legislature can continue to re-direct the funds to other purposes.

Finally, let’s go back to the quote from the Freshwater Society report: “Despite our wealth of water in Minnesota, we cannot presume our access to unspoiled drinking water is sustainable into the future.  We know our rivers, lakes and streams are contaminated by runoff from sources near and far.”

It would be nice if just saying that Minnesota’s lakes, rivers and streams are clean now and will be for years to come, and that it’s safe to eat fish from all of them, would make it so.  But that’s not the case.

To maintain the wonderful quality of life we have here in Minnesota requires an investment, funding dedicated to preserve a precious resource that is “vital to all life.”

Some folks might be willing to leave to future generations a new identity of Minnesota as the “Land of 10,000 Dirty Lakes.”  But not me.  And I think a majority of Minnesotans aren’t willing to either.  That’s why we’ll be voting yes on the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment on November 4th.

Leave a Reply

  • (will not be published)