For its fourth meeting, the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources moved out of the hallowed halls of the State Office Building and headed northward to the Chomonix Golf Course, located at the Rice Creek Chain of Lakes Regional Park Reserve in Lino Lakes.
As part of a day-long agenda to better understand the myriad environmental issues that the committee needs to understand, the meeting included various site visits and presentations. Dr. Deb Swackhamer, professor and co-director of the Water Resources Center at the University of Minnesota, brought a broad but informative environmental presentation to the committee at Chomonix. Other site visits included presentations by:
Steve Woods, Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources
Kevin Biehn, Emmons Oliver Resources
Bob Welsh, DNR
Doug Mensing, Applied Ecological Services
Jane Prohaska, Minnesota Land Trust
John Von de Linde and Jeff Perry, Anoka County Parks
Dr. David Tillman and Dr. Jeff Corney, Cedar Creek History Area
Each presenter focused on various ecological and environmental areas, such as conservation and restoration, but Swackhamer’s presentation was the lynch pin that touched on the most environmental areas and gave the committee a bulk of issues to consider.
Calling her presentation a “30,000 foot overview,” Swackhamer said that “Minnesota issues are relevant at the national level – we’re lucky that we are at the confluence of three watersheds and have varied ecosystems” but that this fate also makes pinpointing (and in this case, funding) environmental issues more difficult than states with fewer ecosystems or natural resources.
The areas that Swackhamer addressed included: water supply quality and quantity, the need for addressing social and environmental aspects of policy and management, land use, agricultural practices, the waste-energy nexus and global climate change.
While each of these issues demanded more time than Swackhamer was allotted, she quickly and concisely outlined the main points of each area, and left the committee with an emphasis on the need to be “ahead of the curve” when it comes to water quality and quantity. She also emphasized the imminent threat of global climate change on all environmental aspects and offered that new studies which involve the interdisciplinary works of sociologists, economists, legal scholars, in addition to more traditional environmental work done on the public policy and scientific fronts, would assist in moving Minnesota ahead. (For more in-depth information Swackhamer referred the committee to research done by the National Academies of Science, which conducts a vast array of research, the International Joint Committee of the US and Canada, which focuses on the Great Lakes, and the National Institute of Water Resources.)
Trying to tackle such concepts as how much clean water is worth or trying to determine the actual costs (positive and negative, monetary and environmental) in ethanol production – an issue that is currently seeing extensive coverage in the Star Tribune and one that drew the ire of Sen. Jim Vickerman (who was sitting in for Sen. Dallas Sams; Vickerman is a big proponent of ethanol production in the state) — led Rep. Dennis Ozmentto suggest that an allocation of $2 million for funding of RFPs concerning water seems a mere pittance. General consensus on the committee was to bring the call for RFPs into better focus and coming up with language for the call for RFPs that is more succinct. Citizen representatives Nancy Gibson and Mary Mueller broached the subjects of emerging environmental concerns, with Gibson calling for a need to address global climate change and Mueller requesting that emerging water innovations and improvements be added to the call for RFPs – each a valid addition to the committee’s need to not only fully grasp these issues but to address how funds should be allotted to these areas.
The committee is seeking public input to help determine what the citizenry would like to see in regard to funding allocations concerning environmental concerns. Exercising the right to voice what citizens want to protect the state’s natural resources is necessary to give the committee the broadest possible view.