Conservation Minnesota

Educating Legislators on Water Issues

JohnHellandbiopicThe 1989 Groundwater Act was a major piece of legislation in Minnesota.  It realized that all of us have a stake in knowing more about our groundwater resources and taking necessary action to protect them.

Besides Minnesota’s five state agencies that work on water issues, many other groups that impact water had a hand in the legislation.  As every year there are a multitude of water issues that come before the Legislature, the Act contained a provision for a unique Legislative Water Commission (LWC).

Now, 25 years later, the idea for a LWC and it’s importance for the Legislature has resurfaced again with serious traction.  The original LWC was not kept alive after its repeal date in 1995.  At the time, there was a serious attempt to do away with all kind of advisory groups and commissions that reported to the Legislature.

Even though many groups, including the state agencies, and legislators that followed water issues respected the work and recommendations of the LWC, the momentum to do away with advisory groups in the mid-1990’s was too much to overcome.  The key element for the original LWC was it allowed ten legislators to develop an expertise in related water issues, to spread that knowledge to their legislative colleagues, and to make recommendations on new law and funding.

During legislative sessions and in discussions on state agency water reports, you could hear remarks about the usefulness and importance of key legislators knowing about the complexity of water issues.  The 2011 major water report by the University of Minnesota, “Minnesota Sustainable Water Framework,” recommended that a Legislative Water Commission should be enacted again.

A new LWC is alive and well in H.F. 3172, Article 7, Section 4 of the supplemental appropriations bill for 2014.  It basically contains the same direction that the 1989 LWC was given:  to review state agency and major water policy reports and make recommendations to the full Legislature.  It also is tasked to coordinate with the state’s Clean Water Council, and it is given a five-year lifespan until it is repealed.

An initial budget of $155,000 is contained in the bill to hire staff and pay for meetings.

One curious task that is missing in the 2014 LAC version is a requirement to “…study the implementation and affects of sustainable agriculture in Minnesota, including current and potential practices and their effect on water and groundwater.”  With all the current emphasis on nonpoint pollution and nitrates impacting water quality, it seems that the above language is still very relevant for the Legislature to know about.

However, it is refreshing and important that a new group of legislators now have the opportunity to key in on water issues and help their colleagues focus on sustainable state water management.

About John Helland

John Helland
John Helland is a history graduate of the University of Minnesota. He served as the nonpartisan legislative research analyst for the Minnesota House of Representatives after graduation. He worked extensively on environment and natural resources legislation and issues, and was the primary nonpartisan research staffer for the House Environment and Natural Resources Policy and Finance committees from 1971 to 2008.
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