Three hundred concerned Minnesotans came to the Heintz Commons at Rochester Community and Technical College on Monday night as part of a town hall on water quality.
This was the first of 10 town hall meetings as part of Gov. Mark Dayton's "25 by 25" clean water initiative, which aims to improve water quality in Minnesota by 25 percent by 2025.
"There's a high level of citizen participation here in Rochester," Dayton said.
His team expected about 150 people to come, and was surprised to attract double the estimate.
"It's really encouraging that we had that many people come out on a beautiful summer night because they care about the future of water quality in Rochester, Olmsted County, and the region and the state," he said.
The "25 by 25" plan was announced in February. The initiative plans to improve water quality and decrease pollution by 25 percent by 2025. It doesn't mean that every pollutant will decrease by 25 percent, or that all water areas will improve by 25 percent. Rather, it refers to an aggregate improvement throughout the state.
The town hall meetings are designed to encourage local participation and gather unique solutions to water quality problems.
The evening started with brief remarks from Governor Dayton and water quality experts, including water advisor Anna Henderson and Rylee Main, the executive director of the Lake Pepin Legacy Alliance.
From there, the crowd broke into groups to answer discussion questions regarding water quality. The answers were submitted electronically, and the data was collected by the governor's staff.
Attending the meeting was local student Kristin Dieterman.
"Growing up, I've always been very concerned about the environment," she said. "Going into these next years with climate change and everything like that, water is a very big issue."
Minnesota Department of Agriculture Commissioner Dave Frederickson attended the event as a member of Dayton's cabinet. He has focused much of his attention on promoting "best management practices" or BMPs to local farmers in an effort to improve water quality and decrease pollution. There are currently 400 farmers working towards adopting BMPs, which represents about 250,000 acres of land in Minnesota.
"You do water quality acre by acre and farm by farm, field by field," he said. "We're slowly but surely getting to that point where we have these practices established on those farms. That's the goal at this point."
Also in attendance was representative Tina Liebling, who wanted to gain knowledge to go along with her concern regarding water quality issues.
"Water is just a very important issue for the state," she said. "The idea that we have to protect our water cuts across all boundaries."
The town halls will continue through October, at which point the governor will look at compiled data and continue to act towards solutions. It's not a one-size-fits-all solution, however.
"It needs to come from people's own expertise, and their own knowledge of local conditions," Dayton said "We have to engage everybody in a way that's going to make a difference."