Framework offers water sustainability plan
By Heather Thorstensen
Date Modified: 07/14/2011 12:08 PM
BLOOMINGTON, Minn.— A report on how Minnesota may achieve a sustainable water supply became part of the discussion at a recent conference about how to feed a growing world population.
Participants of the National Agricultural Biotechnology Council Conference, held in Bloomington June 15-17, heard about the Minnesota Water Sustainability Framework.
Deborah Swackhamer spearheaded the nearly 150-page report and presented it during the conference. She is co-director of the University of Minnesota Water Resources Center.
The 2009 Minnesota Legislature asked the center to create the report after voters approved the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment to the state's constitution.
The amendment increased the sales and use tax by three-eighths of one percent on taxable sales. From that, an estimated $85 million a year for 25 years is dedicated to protecting water through the state's Clean Water Fund, Swackhamer said.
While the report isn't a specific spending plan for those funds, the money puts the state in a unique position to be able to focus on protecting its water resources for the long-term.
Swackhamer said the report could be a model for the rest of the country, and possibly the world, for addressing water sustainability.
"If we can demonstrate these kinds of investments can make a difference, we can make a difference for the rest of the country," she said.
Sustainable water use was defined as one that does not harm ecosystems, degrade water quality or compromise future generations from meeting their own needs.
The report addresses drinking water quality, storm water management, agricultural and industrial use, how surface and groundwater interact, ecological needs, invasive species and Minnesota's water infrastructure system.
"We worked with people from very different perspectives of water," Swackhamer said.
More than 250 people from federal, state, local and tribal governments, private industry, agriculture, universities and environmental agencies were involved. More than 5,000 taxpayers participated in an online survey and listening sessions.
Ninety issues were identified and categorized into 10 big issues. For each, the report spells out a desired future, strategies of what to do and recommendations for how to do them. It has benchmarks for measuring progress, an implementation schedule and a matrix that shows which actions will give the state the most bang for its buck.
One of most critical actions calls for a study of the state's ground water resources — how much the state has, how much it uses and how much it will need. Others involve addressing future contaminants and revising water appropriations permits so that withdrawls are based off a low-flow threshold.
Another calls for the state to follow implementation plans for reducing pollutants in water and to get farmers involved with the effort. Others aim to integrate water and land use planning and align water, energy, land and transportation policies with a focus on sustainability.
Other parts of the report include recommendations that water infrastructure needs be addressed and municipal water pricing be changed to take into account the ecological costs of using water.
Earlier this year, the report was presented to the Minnesota House of Representative's environment committee and the Senate's agriculture and environment committees.The Legislature hasn't taken any overt action on the framework yet, Swackhamer said.
It is available online at wrc.umn.edu. The Water Resources Center is affiliated with the University of Minnesota's College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences and University of Minnesota Extension.