At the LCCMR’s June 20 meeting at Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge in Bloomington the day unrolled at an even, calm pace. Perhaps it was the beatific setting, or the lack of acrimony that colored the previous day’s meeting but all in all, the meeting moved along at its usual clip. And if there were a theme to the day, it was one of cooperation and partnership.
Dedicating the day to reviewing the Minnesota Environmental Quality Board’s (EQB) response to the LCCMR’s inquiries submitted last year, the committee also spent time reviewing the formatting for 2008 RFPs and NGO presentations. (RFPs are expected to be issued at the beginning of July and due at the end of August.)
The EQB report was requested last year by LCCMR co-chair Rep. Kathy Tinglestad and includes responses from the Pollution Control Agency and the departments of agriculture, administration, health, DNR, transportation and the Board of Water and Soil Resources. Outlining the various challenges and goals each of these agencies represents, the report was submitted in September last year, but due to time constraints the LCCMR did not have a chance to fully review the data until now.
In the EQB report, one particular area of funding requested came up not only at this meeting, but has been bandied about in others – the importance of mapping data to get an accurate handle on land and water use and resources, sustainability and threats to these areas. While there were monies awarded for some mapping RFPs in the 2007 funding cycle, the import of allocating more funds to mapping has become a topic on which many organizations are focused.
It may seem that mapping is a simple enough task — likely due to the prevalence of such things as Google maps, which can get you to and from just about anywhere — the mapping requests in front of the LCCMR are quite different. Essentially, much of the mapping that is requested for the state addresses the need to determine where various natural resources are actually located – this goes far beyond mapping of roads, parks and already protected lands and extends into areas of water and land that haven’t been mapped in the state. For example, it’s unknown as to where many of the state’s aquifers are actually located, how much water they contain and at what pace they are re-generating themselves. The looming issue surrounding this is that as our water consumption continues to increase, are the aquifers able to keep up with it? EQB chair Gene Hugoson said that Minnesota has always been a “water rich” state but that over the course of the past few year consumption has eclipsed rates at which water is naturally renewed. For example, one study cited that Ramsey County used 177 percent water – 77 percent more than what it is being regenerated or delivered via natural pathways (rain, snowmelt) into the aquifer that supplies the area with water.
The mapping will also assist scientists, environmentalists and other organizations identify where the greatest threats to our natural resources lie. Whether these threats are couched in areas of water or land, without a full grasp on the availability, or lack thereof, of such resources, it is difficult to determine how to proceed with conservation and preservation of such resources.
Hugoson also called for the state’s need to develop an “Environmental Congress,” something he applauded former Governor Arne Carlson with but lamented current Governor Pawlenty’s lack of encouraging such broad-based, multi-group communication. Citing such a group-oriented participatory process as being necessary to define sustainable development, Hugoson said we all need to learn how to live within our means and without understanding the verities of each environmental threat, efforts to address these issues would be hampered. This isn’t the first time this issue has come up in recent LCCMR meetings. There is an acknowledgement that in order to deliver the best possible options and determine an accurate account of natural resources, there needs to be more communication and convergence between groups in order to achieve preservation and conservation goals.
David Benke of the PCA also called for preservation and partnership in environmental preservation and conservation efforts, as the threats of climate change, water resources and air pollution all are tied to human activity and all impact the natural state of the environment. Stating that there is a need to change behavior from an individualized viewpoint to one of a “we focus,” Benke called for innovation, prevention, behavioral change and partnership to insure the future health of our natural resources.
John Jaschke of the Board of Water and Soil Resources told the committee that their monitoring efforts were under-funded. While committee member Al Berner queried this and questioned the duplicity and overlap between the FSA and the board. This illustrated the necessity of more cooperation among various agencies and, as has been pointed out periodically throughout LCCMR meetings, with an ever-tightening budget allocated to protecting natural resources, that state needs to be very careful that funding and environmental group actions aren’t redundant.
While it seems unlikely that the Department of Transportation would have environmental issues topping its agenda, the DOT’s Environmental Services division has received more awards for environmental transportation than any other state. This could serve as proof that there may be more compatibility among goals of these various groups than previously thought.
Speaking to what the public deems important, Minnesota Environmental Partnership’s executive director, Steve Morse, told the committee about MEP’s recent public survey findings. Stating that we are at a “very auspicious moment,” Morse said that the MEP is seeing growing public interest and awareness in environmental issues that the LCCMR is examining. Citing four themes that are of importance: water (focusing on non-point sources), energy and climate, habitat and land use and recreation, Morse appealed to the committee to look for projects or work that are overlapping and work to avoid such situations. Another opportunity that Morse pointed out is that there could be a bridge to dedicated funding. Were such dedicated funding to end up on an 2008 election-year ballot, it is essential that the LCCMR and the groups that seek funding are preparing now to start the process of engaging local citizens and communities in the process in order to garner as much support as necessary.
Closing out the day, a few committee members split off to continue discussing the issue of mining rights on protected lands that have received LCCMR funding. Certainly that issue is not one that will quickly be put to rest, and may require quite a lot of cooperation among elected representatives, the DNR, state commissions and others to achieve some sort of peaceful, and environmentally protective, resolution.