Clean water study presented to legislators


How does the “land of sky blue waters,” which, by federal standards, has 40 percent of its ground and surface waters polluted, evolve into the “Land of no impaired waters?”

Just ask Deborah Swackhamer, co-director of the University of Minnesota Water Resource Center, who presented the Minnesota Water Sustainability Framework to the House Environment, Energy and Natural Resources Policy and Finance Committee Jan. 5. The study is a 25-year strategy to bring Minnesota’s ground and surface water into compliance with the state’s Clean Water Act.

The 200-page document spells out a comprehensive plan for mapping, monitoring and cleaning polluted waters and ensuring that there is enough clean drinking water for the future.

More than 200 stakeholders and technical experts created the $750,000 study that was authorized by the Legislature last year and funded through the Clean Water Legacy Fund.

Acknowledging that achieving clean water won’t be cheap, Swackhamer said steps can be taken now that are not costly but are critical to the long-term goal.

For example, one recommendation is that legislators revise the water permit process. Rather than issuing permits and suspending them if problems occur, permit applications could be screened prior to being granted.

Another key recommendation is to produce models of where the balance of water is, where it comes from and how much is available today and into the future. Mapping and hydrologic monitoring would reveal how much water is in the state’s “account” but could take up to 10 years to complete. Although monitoring is underway, the researchers recommend accelerating the work two-fold.

Rep. Rick Hansen (DFL-South St. Paul) pointed out that such planning could reduce the frequently flooded areas and avoid the high cost of replacing damaged property and infrastructure. Cross contamination of waters is also a negative result of flooding, he added.

Rep. Paul Torkelson (R-Nelson Township) said the study’s findings show that Twin Cities area residents use more groundwater than the area produces and pay less per gallon than it costs to provide to each household.

In addition, the study recommends planning for future water contaminants through water treatment design standards and proper disposal of unwanted pharmaceuticals. Swackhamer also emphasized the need to integrate water policies with energy, land and transportation policies.