Water Propheting

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Lame attempt at a clever headline?  Yes.  But that doesn’t make the topic of privatizing water and the people who talk about it any less important (though the expression “privatizing water” doesn’t exactly make it sexy either).

The cover issue of this week’s Pulse Magazine is all about bottled water and the commodification of a public good.  It is often talked about as an issue of concern around the world – particularly in places where freshwater is scarce – but it is also an issue Minnesotans should be paying attention to.

Most notably, Minnesota shares a shore of the largest body of freshwater in the world.  Lake Superior and the other Great Lakes hold 20 percent of the world’s surface freshwater.  The eight states and two Canadian provinces that border the lakes have been working towards an agreement on how to regulate water usage in the basin, but it still has a long political path to walk before it can be implemented – including the need for the Minnesota legislature to ratify the agreement hopefully next session. And as Dave Dempsey pointed out in a recent Star Tribune opinion piece, there’s the yet unresolved issue of bottling Great Lakes water to sell elsewhere.

In addition to Lake Superior, Minnesota needs to have a deliberate conversation about our groundwater as well.  Ethanol production plants are popping up like…well, like corn stalks in the soybean fields. We tend to grow corn (and thus site the plants) where we have the least amount of groundwater to spare.  As pointed out in the recent Star Tribune series on ethanol and elsewhere, a gallon of ethanol uses something like 4 gallons of water during the production process.  Last I heard, there were 18 or more proposals actively pursuing new or expanding facilities.  The end result could be the need for thousands of millions of gallons of groundwater each year and that’s before we talk about the growing needs of cities.

And as long as I am talking about buying groundwater, I’d be remiss not to mention the recent MPR story: Historic Camp Coldwater springs and government buildings on the sales block.

Hopefully, the Minnesota legislature will create an opportunity during the next session to talk about Minnesota’s water and how we can best protect and utilize it.

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