Water sustainability is an achievable goal
One of the promising developments in public decision making in the recent past is the use of evidence-based information as the basis for state and local actions. The movement from what has traditionally been a political decision to real facts has the potential to restore or create a level of trust in the political process that has been absent in recent years.
That is why the determination by the legislature, as part of the Clean Water Legacy Act, to request that the University of Minnesota Water Resources Center construct a water framework describing what needs to be accomplished and how to get it done was a positive step.
Since the Water Sustainability Framework has been completed and released, the decision appears even better. The framework is an informational document, detailing the issues Minnesota will over the next 25 years with our ground, surface and other water resources.
Minnesota is unique and fortunate that we are upstream of almost everybody. We are the headwater of three major intercontinental river systems — the Mississippi, the Red, and Great Lakes. But with our good fortune comes the responsibility for assuring those downstream that we are doing everything in our power to maintain a sustainable water environment for today and the future.
In their evaluation of the status of water in Minnesota, Framework authors describe the significant improvement in water quality that has occurred since passage of the clean water act in 1972. Unfortunately, they further note that some 40 percent of water nationally and in Minnesota remains polluted.
Even with the best efforts of regulators, the public, industry, agriculture, and others, we are still confronted with sediment loads that choke rivers and lakes, nitrogen and phosphorus overloads that produce toxic algae blooms and contribute to the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico, mercury pollution that restricts our use of fish, pharmaceuticals from human and animal waste, and increasing threats from new and emerging chemicals. We also are finding drinking water aquifers contaminated and depleted, agricultural chemicals are present in quantities that restrict water use.
The Frameworks authors suggest these steps are mandatory if we are to achieve water sustainability:
"Protect and restore water quantity and quality through comprehensive, integrated, and informed management and policy:
• Revise water appropriations permitting, and model the state's water balance.
• Comply with water quality standards through implementation plans for reducing pollutants and bring farmers to the table to be part of this solution.
• Address future contaminants.
• Address the interconnected nature of water by integrating and aligning planning and policies;
• Integrate water and land use planning.
• Align water energy, land and transportation policies for sustainability."
These need to be developed within the following recommended principles:
• Protect, maintain, and restore the biological, chemical, and physical health of the nations water resources.
• Provide resiliency to our ecosystems, our communities, and our economies.
• Increase our understanding of our state water balance and th eprocesses and stressors affecting it to provide for improved decision making.
• Improve our capacity for water mangement that can adapt to new knowledge, changing biogeochemical systems, and long-term challenges.
• Encourage sustainable, conservation-minded land use practices.
• Recognize and honor our many uses of water, including recreational, cultural, and spiritual values.
• Preserve our water-rich heritage and ensure our future legacy as national and international water stewards.
• Provide for a lasting foundation to achieve and maintain sustainable water management.
These ends are achievable. But we need to involve people from all walks of life and lifestyles.
We need to make it clear to elected and appointed officials that these are the goals of the people of Minnesota.
We cannot tolerate any longer the kinds of excuses that delay our efforts to protect water.
Arguments that fiscal issues do not permit conservation and protection need to understand that saving money for the future does not matter if what is left for the future is a devastated water resource.Those who would abuse this resource need to understand that their acts are not acceptable. We need to remember that we all play a part in the problem and have to be part of the solution, singling out one industry or user is not productive in the long term.
Most of the recommendations in this plan are achievable by Minnesotans, within Minnesota, some require regional or nation actions, but they all start here.
A copy of the plan is available at the Water Resource Centers web site at www.wrc.edu/watersustainabilityframework/. The executive summary is nine pages, but the entire document is worth the time to read it. Then let your elected officials (local, regional, state, and federal) know that these concerns are your concerns and that they will be evaluated on how they implement the framework,