Aiming to have more impact on policies that affect lakes and water quality, more than a dozen coalitions of lake associations (COLAs) are forming a statewide group, the Minnesota COLA Collaborative. “We figured out that we could have the most strength in numbers,” says Dan Kittilson, president of the Hubbard County association and one of the brains behind the effort.
At first, he was looking at establishing a regional coalition, but the effort quickly blossomed to include coalitions from around the state. Kittilson, who lives on Little Sand Lake near Dorset, asked the advocacy group Minnesota Waters to help with recruiting and organizing. Members of the new collaborative will meet in late August in Nisswa to formalize bylaws, elect a board and officers and discuss a potential dues structure. A website is in the works.
“There are a lot of COLAs out there working individually,” says Kittilson. “We felt that if we could get together, we would have a stronger voice and be able to support each other.” He estimates that the collaborative could represent 40,000 to 50,000 people and most, if not all, of the lake association coalitions in the state. It’s a unique approach to addressing water quality issues, a topic Ground Level will be investigating for the next month or two.
Lake associations have long worked to address specific local issues: leaking septic tanks, excesses of curly leaf pondweed, runoff from local farms, county boards granting too many zoning variances. But now, by joining forces, they hope to be able to share information and educational campaigns, have an influential voice at the Legislature and draw bigger grants for projects like the prevention of aquatic invasive species.
“We worked this year on the variance standard,” says Kilttilson, referring to his group’s attempt to alter a bill that lowered the standard by which cities grant zoning variances. Another priority is supporting new shoreland development standards, which govern how and where cabins and other structures can be built. The DNR recently came up with a revised set of rules, but they were vetoed by former Gov. Tim Pawlenty on his way out of office. “We’re trying to get those through,” Kittilson says.
While the collaborative hopes to affect larger change, there has been some disagreement among members over how to couch those efforts. “There are some who do not want to use the term ‘lobbying,'” says Molly Zins, a program director for Minnesota Waters. “This is a continuing discussion for the group and something we’re working through. Like any group, there are diverging opinions.”
Douglas County coalition president Bonnie Huettl, who lives on Lobster Lake near Alexandria, is another force behind the collaborative effort. “We will always be watching what’s going on in the Legislature as far as lake issues go,” she says. “That is part of our mission statement, looking to enhance the waters, repair the waters. Water is our big deal. We do want to influence local senators and representatives. And if you can give them the information they need… Some call that lobbying. I call it getting the word out.”