It was like the first day of school at the second Clean Water Council (CWC) meeting on Monday. But that wasn’t a bad thing.
Anyone interested in obtaining a crash course on water issues, particularly what constitutes TMDLs (total daily maximum loads), should have a good handle on things after the CWC meeting.
It’s a complicated issue, involving loads of analysis, formula and process, all examining acceptable amounts of waste or byproducts that can flow into a water body, examination of watersheds and the points (or non-points) of contamination. (Point pollution would be that which directly dumps into a water body, such as a factory pumping its refuse into a stream or lake. Non-point pollution would be caused by a number of issues such as run-off – like chemical spray on lawns that kills weeds or agricultural run-off.)
The Council’s goal was to make sure that everyone would be up to speed on TMDL identification and implementation plan process. In addition to presentations by MPCA representatives and John Barten from the Three Rivers Park District in Hennepin County – also the sole non-MPCA presenter – members and attendees were also provided with a plethora of printouts, ranging from a water quality monitory strategy report prepared by the EPA covering the decade from 2004-14 to full printouts of the PowerPoint presentations given – a helpful aide for those new to water issues.
As the committee began to dip its toes in the water issues that plague the state, it became clear from the presentations that current analysis – not to mention funding – to address these issues are at low tide. In other words, with more surface water than any other of the 48 contiguous states, Minnesota not only has a vast natural resource that demands conservation and preservation, but funding to address these issues has long been abysmally low. With more than 85 percent of the State’s waters deemed impaired and less than 10 percent of those actually in receipt of testing of their state of impairment, we are lost at sea in addressing this issue.
Certainly, as the state grapples with a plethora of social funding issues, water appears to lag far behind. (Take a look at MEP correspondent John Tuma’s latest legislative report.) And, the most frustrating thing in this process – at least to outsiders – is the length of time it takes to get the ball rolling.
Compounding such issues are those that arose around Lake Independence case study. Located less than 20 miles west of Minneapolis, Lake Independence has had to contend with more and more impairment to its waters as residential, hobby farming and traditional farming edge take an ever large toll on its watershed. In addition to this, there are three communities contributing to the problem: Independence, Medina and Loretto. Making matters worse, the city of Loretto (the smallest of the three) wouldn’t even participate in Three Rivers’ community meeting — that is until they were found to be a contributing factor to water pollutants, mainly due to their septic system discharge.
Then, there’s the Lake Pepin case study. Long lauded as a tourist desination, this water area is increasingly threatened. And, the timeline involved in identifying its restoration needs began last year, yet its TMDL analysis is slated to be delivered two years from now. What will happen in the interim?
Currently, the Clean Water Legacy Act stipulates that a report is submitted every even-numbered year. This lag prompted one committee member to ask if the CWC had any intent on creating a report this year – a sound idea and one that will be further discussed at next month’s meeting.
Overall, there wasn’t much feedback from council members other than clarifying a few issues: one member was stunned at Barten’s quote of $30,000 for residents to replace their septic systems (the council member recently paid less than half that for his – and he isn’t that far out of the metro area confines), and others seemed concerned about the MPCA’s outreach efforts to garner more volunteers to assist them in water monitoring. (Admittedly, the MPCA’s response appeared weak, although there is some legitimacy in their argument that it can be difficult to coordinate and enforce volunteer activities.)
In the end, the most frustrating aspect of moving forward, in a timely manner, is the bureaucratic nature of organizations such as MPCA and the fact that there is little incentive for them to deliver their findings, and develop strategies to obtain results, in a more timely manner. Two years seems an awfully long time — certainly scientific research and verifiability takes time, but in the interim couldn’t some progress be made in helping to conserve our waters? Afterall, Minnesota’s waters not only define our state but are a large contributor to our economic base. Let’s hope the council agrees to a yearly report — at the least it may get things rolling, and get us out of the murky waters that currently bog down water conservation efforts.