On Monday July 31st, over 300 farmers, residents, agency professionals, city and county staff, and elected officials from Southeast Minnesota filed into Rochester Community and Technical College for the first of Governor Dayton’s 25 By 25 Water Town Hall meetings. Everyone there was eager to discuss concerns about Minnesota’s water quality and willing to participate in the evening’s agenda to identify issues and find solutions by cooperation and consensus.
The evening began with Governor Dayton addressing the room and giving his own personal reasons for wanting to make clean water his legacy as Governor. He told stories most in the room could relate to of cabins, “up north” summers, fishing and swimming, and expressed his sadness over the reports from all over the State that indicate how the way of life is being threatened due to pollution, particularly in Southern Minnesota. He thanked everyone in the room for being willing to do the hard work of showing up because the turnout was indicative of how important this issue is to all Minnesotans.
The event moved on with a workshop format—each table in the room was asked to start with one key question: What goals would you like to see that could help improve water quality 25% in SE Minnesota? Each table was asked to discuss this question for 15 minutes and provide feedback through an online tool that collected the responses for all attendees to see and vote on. Easy enough, right?
Then, we were asked to move. Everyone was asked to switch tables to a new group of people and delve deeper into the issue with the question: What actions are needed in the region to improve water quality? Harder question, especially with new people. People recounted what they’d discussed at their previous tables and common themes emerged, but maybe it was a testament to the caliber of people who showed up that most of us had already made that leap from generic goal to actions or mechanisms.
Finally, we moved one more time to answer the question: What would it take to move these actions forward? This is where the answers really streamlined. Whether we were talking about agricultural practices, soil and water conservation districts, municipal planning, or education and outreach, there were really only three answers: policy, engagement and money.
There will be more Water Town Halls across the state in the next two months, and I will be attending at least two more here in Southern Minnesota. What I learned from this first session is that, based on attendance alone, there are more than enough people in the state who are willing to sit down and talk about how to move forward and who are unafraid to confront the issues. As an organizer I know that you can never underestimate a motivated group just based on size. These town halls may be the beginning of the citizen movement that’s needed to ensure Minnesota’s water future looks brighter and clearer.