Should Minnesota try to attract more water-intensive companies?

Lake Superior waves crash on the shore in Duluth, Minn. on Monday, April 16, 2012. MPR Photo/Dan Kraker

“Charles Fishman thinks Minnesota should sell its water. No, not the way that you might be thinking, in a pipeline from Lake Superior to someplace in the desert like Las Vegas. But as an asset, to water-intensive industries like microchip makers, and on one big condition – that they give the water back in the same condition they take it,” writes Ground Level editor Dave Peters.

“Why the hell does Intel build microchip factories in Phoenix, where there is no water, when those factories gulp water like they were industrial scale farms,” Fishman said the other day. “Why aren’t they building the microchip factories in Minnesota?

Why don’t you sell the availability of water as an asset, especially to people who have water-dependent businesses? And the caveat is, ‘You have to appreciate that part of our water culture is there’s lots of water and you have to give it back to the environment in the condition you took it in.’ ”

Today’s Question: Should Minnesota try to attract more water-intensive companies?

  • jh2

    I’ve been pushing the same idea as Fishman, except I do think we’re going to have to build water pipelines. Here in Southern California water is a scarce resource, expensive and subject of many political battles. I’ve suggested making the requirement for approving the Keystone XL pipeline (not that I want that to happen!) that they build water pipelines to us!
    BTW, take a look at Dubai. They distill water as they generate electrical power with natural gas and I have been told the water costs the government more than gasoline.
    Getting semiconductor companies to move to Minnesota would be fun to watch – are you aware of the toxic chemicals used in manufacturing semiconductors?

    • Joe

      Never look at Dubai for anything involving politics, especially regarding “how” the government pays for things.

  • Joseph

    Moot. A soon as the mining operations pollute the water table up north the question will become one of physical survival not one of economics. See West Virgina. And in 20 years when you grandkids want that new bass boat – will they remember the restrictions we place on water use now? Nope. A new boat always trumps good sense.

  • Onator

    I prefer our that assets be left alone. Not against industrial manufacturing, Hell, I’m as capitalist as one get’s. But at the end of the day both you and I know that there is no way to return that asset back to its original state after something like that. As much as I want manufacturing back in this country and certainly in MN; it If it requires water then put it elsewhere and leave MN waters for fishing, water sports and for kids to splash in. Now all that being said can’t we instead come up with a better way to manufacture things then using a natural resource like that? If not use filtered waste water and not fresh. Pundits will tell you that kind of water would not be clean enough for microchip manufacturing; to which I say then anytime I kick my PC and call it a piece of crap I’ll be factually accurate…

  • Did you know water bills are higher here in MN that they are in AZ for the same amount of water? Would it be more expensive to make semiconductors here?

  • Heck NO!

    heck no! because no manufacturer really ever DOES put the water back the same way they found. Get real “smart” guy! Its an invitation to pollute our water… too many of those being sent out to companies already. Stay away toxic companies… here’s something for more reading about the toxicity of the electronics industry https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ns-kJ5Podjw&feature=youtu.be

  • Joe

    Maybe the microchips can only be manufactured in the dry air of Phoenix. Maybe.

  • mark hayes

    My answer is HELL NO!! The most water intensive “company” is the Met Council and since this a public forum I cannot use the appropriate language for the way waste groundwater resources. We need to get our cities and the state in line before we even attempt such a maneuver. BTW – there is no water re-use law in Minnesota so the only option for something like Intel is to dump it in the river or more popular maybe White Bear Lake. BTW2 – Ever water park in Minnesota is required by law to dump all their water every 5 days while the technology exists to recycle the same water almost indefinitely. In the near future this state will have to get it collective act together and do recycling of water but that will be 10 to 15 years AFTER the drop dead date for sustainability. This estimate is based on the way Minnesota usually does things.

  • mark hayes

    Addendum: Arizona has all sorts of water, so much so they supply southern California, they freely flood irrigate crops basically year around and have very large dairies.

  • Greg Chester

    Yes sell the beauty and quality of our water. Invite people to come here and drink it, swim in it, enjoy viewing it, canoe on it, and skate on it. When you leave, leave it as healthy as when you found it. We share it with the plants an animals and must be respectful of all of those who also need the system. They will then take care of us.

  • Larry

    Industry never treats their wastewater to a level where it is as clean as the water they withdrew to start with. Yes, Mn has clean water resources. Those resources may unfortunately be required to produce food for a starving populace as Climate Change destroys current food producing regions. The current drought in the CA Central Valley will have an impact on our fruit and vegetable prices. A simialr drought in the Oklahoma, Kansas, Texas “Dust Bowl” could destroy the wheat crop and send the price of bread skyrocketing. If Industry was willing to spend the money to treat their wastewater to pre use condition, they could locate anywhere and be welcomed with open arms. They have never done it yet, Even power plants dump waste heat into the resource. Excessive heat destroys trout streams. Actions have consequences.

  • Gary F

    Then what would we use to make all that ethanol?

    • JQP

      gray water. probably up the octane.

  • Kent

    Repeatedly we see or sense that enforcement on any corporate environmental breach is late, slow, sluggish, easily thwarted, and often resisted of not outright challenged. It seems that the horse is way too often already out of the barn.

    As citizens we now are suspicious that the will and even the integrity of our own environmental protection agencies is in question.

    Therefore,sell water under the suggested terms right after our citizenry and government have accomplished these changes…..

    1) eliminated any suspicion of complicity within state environmental monitoring and enforcement agencies.
    2) made retribution for corporate breaches of environmental code or conduct extraordinarily costly and immediately painful.
    3) accomplished holding corporate CEOs and management individually subject to incarceration for breaches of environmental ethics.

    Indeed, then sell Minnesota water.

  • John in the 6th district

    No. Not until we get our own situation figured out first. Many lakes are impaired because of nitrogen and phosphorus. Farmers are fertilizing way more than they used to. Irrigation of farm fields is huge recently after the year the farmers made so much money (2012?). Polymet mining up north. What’s happened to White Bear Lake. Small towns that can’t afford to treat their drinking water to remove the nitrogen from the farm leaching. The incomplete rural water system in SW Minnesota.

  • Jim G

    Maybe. It is a delicate balancing act with our lives on the line. Living water, fresh
    water, is a scare resource we need to consume in large quantities in order to prosper and grow. Water is important here. It starts with the Mississippi River and the power it generates at St. Anthony Falls. Our thousands of lakes and wetlands are a part of our collective life. So, whenever an element of nature: water, air, metal ores is taken by industry from the land for profit and use, those who live here in our blessed state must acknowledge our responsibility to insure that industry conserves what it takes… for others in time will also be in need. Conservation is a conservative value that is good for us, our children, our civilization and our Earth, which we inhabit for only a short time.

  • PaulJ

    Are we now thinking that: the fact America is trying to shore up its economy, against the corrupt globe, is like rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic; might work in Minnesota’s favor because many of us own life vests?

  • Ellie

    The problem is that, in most cases, water does not get returned to its original quality. We end up replacing natural water with treated water of some kind and quality. Also, large scale water use depletes underground aquifers, and water brought to the surface can drain off into different watersheds and/or states. We have not learned to respect our water and to use it wisely and carefully. Now we are having to learn the lessons the hard way.

  • FEL

    No large company will ever locate a capital intensive factory in MN unless it uses a mineral or other natural resource from MN. The reason is the state’s punitive tax policies and ideological overregulation. A $ billion microchip plant would generate a huge property tax bill, plus endless payroll, unemployment, workmen’s comp, and other employee related taxes. Surprisingly the CEOs and finance staff of corporations know this. MN has many ethanol plants because we grow corn. They use huge amounts of water. Enough to deplete our rural water tables to the point we won’t be able to grow corn in a season of little rain. NICE! Copper and nickel exist in abundance in northern MN and processing thru flocculation of the pulverized ore requires huge amounts of water. But the point is companies have to dig where the ore is. Small towns queue up for state LGA and bonding. They then build golf courses, ice rinks, children’s museums, ski chalets, water slide parks. Sewer and water are low priorities. Too bad we have such stupid elected officials. ME TOO. ME TOO! Grab the latest trend or fad. Oh for the good old days when sensible adults ran our governmental units. The low-head hydro plant at St. Anthony Falls used to generate 1/2 of 1 % of the electric power used in the twin city area. After a flood years ago the plant was purchased by the U of MN and converted to gas fired turbines for steam heat. The hydro dam at the demolished Ford plant is now shut down, but still serviceable. Protection of the water table aquifers in the metro area could be accomplish simply by enforcing existing bans on lawn watering during the day. But local residents smugly ignore the rules and weak politicians won’t enforce them. Every suburban resident fancies themselves a hobby farmer growing grass. Poor babies. Little Susie Haigh and her Met Council will tax their brains out building infrastructure to bring Mississippi River water in to replace the city’s wells. A complete waste of money, but it employs union construction workers which is the only real goal of Met Counsel. MN is supposed to be the Brainpower state. Based on our behavior, its hard to see how we have survived this long.

  • ‘Genie

    I grew up in Duluth, but now have resided out west in Wyoming since 1980 and
    love it here. A rancher friend of ours went to D.C. regarding our water…..the Feds
    are literally looking to cut our water in HALF that we currently pay for for irrigating
    our livestock, our ranch land and our crops. We pay per acre; currently for 100
    of our 300 acres is irrigated ground, and we pay almost $3,000.00 per year, or
    else they eventually sell of one’s property. These are 1800 water rights. I believe
    things like fountains, golf courses, and recreational items should be cut before
    cutting our livelihoods here. We are raising beef, goats, sheep, and crops to feed
    them that is shipped worldwide. Sugar beets, corn, etc. are some of the crops that
    are raised here. On an extremely negative note, we have 2 archaic oil wells that
    were on our property when we moved here that have been nothing but a source
    of greed, with spills occurring numerously and not cleaned up. They pump SO few
    barrels it is laughable. HOWEVER, the pig oil wells ALSO pump out 1,200 gallons
    EACH, per DAY, per MANY years they have pumped. We have spoken to EPA,
    DEQ, the state boys and all the other “good ‘ol boys” who have their heads up
    their yazzoo to no avail. Yes, it is true, the wells are spilling toxic chemical laden
    waste water, that COULD and SHOULD be cleaned up, in our WATER SHED
    drains. Other states would be appalled at this. Wyoming is so full of good ‘ol
    boys, they all have the same mental midget mentality. Too bad, yes, water is
    NOT reclaimed, NOR is it EVER returned to its pure or better state. Sad. This
    discharged water, by the way, is going into a Federal Riparian Area DESIGNATED for WILDLIFE. Think about that one! We love the land and love
    it here on the ranch, but what these “Wyoming Natives” (the bozos born here)
    have ruined a LOT of the land.

    • Nora

      The golf courses are used by the rich who will never want to give them up, and the owners think they are a benefit to the community just as much as you think raising livestock is. They will argue that golfer spending contributes to the local economy and attacks visitors.

      As for the bozos born out west, they are boneheads for sure, but you chose to live with them. I just hope climate change doesn’t make them decide to move east. Don’t need ’em; don’t want ’em. They have no respect for anything living except for people like them, and I even question even that.

  • Sharon Dixon

    No. Minnesota’s beauty and a lot of the recreation is built around the water this state has. We do not need to sell it to make money for the state. Start doing that and pretty soon our farmers, businesses and the tourist attractions/resorts will be going out of business. Imagine the start of the Mississippi River being a small trickle instead of the way it is. Imagine lakes around the area disappearing, fishing in the summer and winter disappearing. Wildlife disappearing because the water is gone. No. Don’t sell our water.

  • Elizabeth

    I don’t think it would ever be “returned in the condition it was before”. Look what is happening in North Dakota—it is becoming a wasteland at the mercy of big oil!

  • Shawn Mason

    It is worth exploring, especially for communities in Minnesota that are economically suffering, and processing significantly less water than what their water plants are capable of producing. Strict MPCA rules, the Clean Water Legacy Act and other regulations are in place to ensure proper use and discharge of water back into our waterway systems. Is it enough? I believe so, but I am not the expert. There are numerous food manufacturing businesses that are highly dependent upon water as part of their manufacturing process, (just an example of what types of companies are water dependent). Perhaps MN DEED and the MPCA, (or the EPA), should consider a collaborative , state-wide study that examines those types of job creation/tax base development opportunities, and what environmental threats the opportunities would have upon our watershed. Understanding the latest in water/environment technology will be an important component of such study.

  • Peatbogjeff

    Absolutely not.

    Much of the world’s fresh water is in Minnesota and southern Ontario. We need to protect it, and start taking measures to conserve it, not exploit it for crass economic purposes. We are already in crisis as far as I am concerned because of the Great Lakes Compact, which allows evil corporations like Nestle to nab millions of gallons of water each year so they can turn it into bottle water and soft drinks.

    Water wars are inevitable, and we need a call to arms, not surrender.

  • Gwen

    This is a terrible idea! It’s impossible to return water “in the same condition”. Corporations will rape nature every chance they get. They’ve proven this over and over again. Do you really trust government to regulate corporate robber barons when the political process is owned by money interests? For example, the majority of Minnesotans did not want public money spent for a Vikings stadium, and yet it’s being done as we speak. And does anyone really think corn-fed ethanol plants are a good idea in a world with too many people and not enough food? We need to protect and conserve our resources, not sell them off.

  • sarah

    So glad and relieved to see so many commenting NO!

    We have a finite amount of water on our planet and the sooner we learn not to take it for granted the better. I second everything Gwen and others have said about safe-guarding this precious resource – precious not just to people but to all life…

  • Gregory Clifford

    1) Most rivers like the Mississippi run into the oceans unused, nobody’s racing to use that fresh water.

    2) Superior is very deep, but how low can you go before the harbors and seaway are dry?

    3) If it were possible to return clean water to the environment, why would companies need more water than an initial draw? They’d just recycle it endlessly.

    4) More likely, drier locations boast lower wages, taxes and services, lower worker and environmental restrictions. That’s no big news; it’s the last rung down the ladder before outsourcing to the Developing World.

  • JQP

    Under the “don’t abuse, return for reuse” model , fine … but … wouldn’t that work just as well in the desert SW?

    If you are returning the water … … an “intel” facility in Phoenix could draw from the ground, cycle it through and return water to the public system – right back to the treatment plant where it could cleaned/tested before being sent to homes.

  • Jeff Friesen

    I would say no, but would ask why the question isn’t “should Minnesota be trying to get more high tech research companies or divisions of high tech companies. Research. Not high intensive manufacturing. High education. High pay. WIth lots of support jobs too. Think about what is happening in Oregon and Washington and imagine it on the North Shore.

  • Spacedock

    Do you have any idea of how “LITTLE” water we have? One of our lakes, White Bear Lake, is and has been dropping for years because of what the farmers are pumping from the resivour below. This water will not be replaced for another 200,000 years and we want to “SELL” what we have left? Besides the Tax situation for business in this state no one has ever enforced violation of water missuse with any furosity so why would they worry about putting water back the way they found it?
    This is another situation where if the laws we currently have on the books, were enforced, our state would be much more attractive to business and our economy would actually be in the black rather then simply an accountents version of black.

    • Facts over emotion

      Farmers? More likely homeowners with pristine, green lawns watered daily. You can’t eat that dandelion free lawn.

      200,000 years? You really are in spacedock.

  • Bart Man

    Absolutely! It is impossible to run out of water, we have the same amount now as we did thousands of years ago. Modern purification equipment and technology are in common use and have drastically improved plant effluent. We are way past the days when pollution was taken lightly, modern industry is clean and efficient. Contrary to what many of the Luddite greenies posting here say, ‘evil corporations’ do not love dirty water. They are made up of people, employees, shareholders, citizens, all who live here and love their beautiful lakes. Remember, all you professional students hiding out in your endless graduate programs, industry and business pays the bills. Endless regulation, taxation, and demonization will eventually cause business to flee, and then the little party comes to an end.

  • William Hunter Duncan

    To even suggest such a thing is to show how far from the sacred we have come.

  • Jeff

    Actually we should be using our weather as an attraction more than anything…our weather is so cold it would be fantastic for server farms since the vast majority of their costs have to do with cooling the servers. Minneapolis is one of the larger cities in one of the coldest regions of the USA, why wouldn’t tech companies want to move a server farm here?

  • Jim

    “…Why aren’t they building the microchip factories in Minnesota?…”
    Two reasons: high taxes and union wages.
    Should MN sell its water? Absolutely not. All the water we have is locally produced, not introduced by sources outside the state. Other than as an tourist attraction, there is absolutely no reason or rhyme to ‘sell’ our water. Nor that in Lake Superior, a tactic the SW has been attempting for as long as I can remember.
    To sell our water is to show how foolish we have become.

  • Lynn

    Water used here and can be recycled into drinkable water those busnesses should be encouraged and welcomed with tax breaks but not no taxes we all need to contribute to keep our state whole. The water tables have gone down it is not true we have the same amount. Water should be collected from rain run off in the cities to provide water for the irrigation of crops. we need filteration and thinking outside the box. Lake water should be protected possibly by having rental boats at a low price instead of bringing your own. This could regulate trafic and make our lakes more pleasant, prevent invasive spicies spread and open up new busnesses especialy for our young people.