WEIGH IN ON WATER: Does local matter?

One of the things made clear in our online chat Friday about farming practices and water pollution was that what people do on the ground in their communities matter. It’s also clear in the responses we received from our seven “water panelists” when we asked them about it.

Shorthand in the world of water pollution: maybe the soil and water districts are more effective than the Pollution Control Agency.

Regardless, here are seven responses to a second water question. What would you say? The first question, posted last week, dealt with farm practices specifically.

You can find much more about water pollution in Minnesota by going to our Ground Level package, “Cleaning Minnesota’s Water”.

QUESTION

Given the complexity and size of water pollution issues, tell us a story or anecdote that makes you think actions at a local level matter.

Share your own answer to this question below…


Kris Sigford

Kris Sigford, Minneapolis, water quality director, Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy

“Cleaning up the enormous dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico starts with proper fertilizer application on a field in Minnesota.”

Years ago, I was engaged in developing a plan to restore water quality in the Straight River in Rice County. This work involved simultaneous water quality sampling for fecal coliform bacteria (excess fecal coliform bacteria make lakes and rivers unsafe for swimming and other primary contact sports) and a “windshield survey” of cattle feedlots with manure runoff into the Straight and its tributaries. Bacteria levels skyrocketed just downstream from feedlots with uncovered manure adjacent to the river. It was a vivid cause-and-effect lesson demonstrating the direct impact on a medium-sized river system of very localized insults.

Water is an aggregator of all local land uses going on nearby. If water quality in a stream, river or lake is bad, the only way to clean it up is to identify and address the specific, local sources that are contributing. In the same way that the longest journey beings with a single step, cleaning up the enormous dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico starts with proper fertilizer application on a field in Minnesota.


Chris Pence

Chris Pence, Brainerd. Land services supervisor for Crow Wing County.

“When citizens choose to engage the process with thoughtful and quality comments, they can make a difference at the local level. “

The Crow Wing County Land Use Ordinance was revised and approved by the County Board on March 22, 2011. The County chose to have a 30-day public comment period prior to any public hearings, which is more than is required by law. The County received over 100 comments during this comment period.

While some of the comments were against the ordinance revision with no specific reason, most of the comments were thoughtful and contained new ideas to improve the ordinance. Many of the submitted comments resulted in actual language in the ordinance being changed, which improved the overall effectiveness of the ordinance. When citizens choose to engage the process with thoughtful and quality comments, they can make a difference at the local level.


Bruce Tiffany

Bruce Tiffany, farmer near Redwood Falls

“Without local ‘buy in’ there will always be resistance. “

Actions at the local level are everything! Every piece of ground, every minor and major watershed, every town, city, and farming operation are different. There are subtle differences that only the people on the ground would know about, and these are the types of things that need to be understood if we want success.

If everything is decided in Washington or St. Paul, chances are they would get it wrong. Without local “buy in” there will always be resistance. As they say, “A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still”. This will only bring about the bare minimum results. When people embrace a challenge or task, so much more can be accomplished with the least expense.

Dwight Eisenhower is credited with saying “Farming is easy when your pen is a plow and your field is a thousand miles away”. I think the same can be said about water quality issues.


Lauren Klement

Lauren Klement, Le Sueur County Environmental Resources Specialist

Actions and decisions at the local level do matter! Most residents in Minnesota are not aware that each county has a Comprehensive Local Water Plan. I am a big supporter of Local Water Management. For many years water management was addressed from a top down approach. We were being told what to do by state agencies.

“I challenge you to look up your county’s water plan! “

By the late 1980’s just about every county in Minnesota developed a comprehensive local water plan. Water resource issues are addressed locally yet partnering with the state. Local input is sought during the plan development. This is done through a water resource task force, surveys and public comment periods. Input is gathered from residents of all areas: farmers, forest and shoreland owners, city residents, city officials, rural residents and natural resources organizations. Local water management can be looked upon as a go-between for the state and county. It gives residents a feeling of ownership or a direct tie to our natural resources. Most counties have their water plan on line. I challenge you to look up your county’s water plan!

I worked with the Waterville Lakes Association (Tetonka and Sakatah lakes) in Le Sueur County to develop a lakeshed management plan specifically for their lake association. We incorporated several action items from the water plan into their plan that will assist them in the directions they want to go. This partnership is also a benefit to local water management because their actions will help fulfill implementing areas of the water plan. Lake Association members are valuable to the process of local water management; they are passionate about their causes. It is refreshing to work with active citizens!


Patrick Moore

Patrick Moore, Montevideo. Executive director of Clean Up the River Environment

“We demonstrated how local food, local art and local tourism can help protect and promote the natural beauty and local culture of the Upper Minnesota River Watershed.”

Upon graduating from the U of M Morris, I moved 40 miles south to the communities of Milan and Montevideo, where I met conservation-minded farmers and fishermen and paddlers with a deep environmental awareness. I banded together with these people and with the help of the Land Stewardship Project, we began to work on creating incentives to keep the land and the people together. We helped create the Lac qui Parle Lake Association, the Sustainable Farming Association of Western Minnesota and a citizen action group called CURE -Clean Up the River Environment. I started a coffee shop called Java River on Montevideo’s Main Street where we demonstrated (through a retail business) how local food, local art and local tourism can help protect and promote the natural beauty and local culture of the Upper Minnesota River Watershed.

These efforts have helped to create a region of people focused on improving water quality and celebrating a quality of life that encourages work, creativity and a connection with the natural world. We have been successful in bringing about national legislation (the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program — CREP) and successful local cultural events (The Meander – Upper Minnesota River Arts Crawl). As a result, the water quality of the region is improving, the wildlife is more abundant and there are more young people moving to the region to engage in sustainable agriculture. Some production agriculture farmers have made decent progress to reduce soil erosion and create more habitat. We can sense a shift in attitude and behavior that, for the most part, is positive.

We know that individuals and communities working together can create change and a positive future. We have seen it first hand.


Rich Axler

Rich Axler, Duluth. Senior research associate in the Natural Resources Research Institute at the University of Minnesota-Duluth

I’m part of a partnership called the Regional Stormwater Protection Team (RSPT) that has met about monthly since 2003 to share information about stormwater pollution prevention activities, and develop shared training, informational, and educational materials.

“All seem willing to change their way of doing things if you can show them a more environmentally sustainable way to get the job done for about the same cost.”

RSPT’s biannual Watershed Festival draws over 600 people and results in the sale of hundreds of rain barrels and compost bins at discount prices.

RSPT sponsored workshops on low impact turf management, erosion and runoff control, and winter lot maintenance (to minimize sand and salt use) target contractors and the comments I hear are all very positive. No one intentionally wants to harm stream critters, fish or Lake Superior and all seem willing to change their way of doing things if you can show them a more environmentally sustainable way to get the job done for about the same cost.


Warren Formo

Warren Formo, Eagan. Executive director of the Minnesota Agricultural Water Resource Center.

“The complexity and size of water pollution issues is the very reason that actions at the local level are so critical!”

The complexity and size of water pollution issues is the very reason that actions at the local level are so critical! I have had the privilege of working with hundreds of farmers all across the Midwest. Their efforts to better manage soil and water on their farms are tangible, and clearly make a difference that they can see. We can also look to the recovering fish populations in the Minnesota River as the result of better practices on farms and improved sewage treatment technologies applied at communities throughout the basin.