On Tuesday August 29th, I spent the evening taking part in a major community summit at Anoka Ramsey Community College in Coon Rapids on water issues in the north metro area.
The summit itself was a huge success with 99 people coming from all over Anoka County and other parts of the north metro area. Attendees were able to talk with fellow community members about why water related issues are important to them, possible new goals for improved water quality in the future, as well as some of the barriers that stand in the way of protecting our state’s waters.
Conservation Minnesota co-hosted this event which was organized by the League of Women Voters’ Upper Mississippi River Region, a joint project made up of four state Leagues and 58 local leagues located in the Upper Mississippi River watershed from the river’s headwaters at Itasca State Park, all the way down to Cairo, Illinois. I was in attendance both representing Conservation Minnesota and helping facilitate the discussion itself. We were joined by a number of other interested groups including the Anoka County Conservation District, the Anoka County Water Task Force, the Blaine Natural Resources Conservation Board, the Coon Rapids Rotary, the Isaac Walton League’s Breckenridge Chapter and many more!
During the summit, we broke into small groups to talk about our state’s waters as well as actions we could take at the individual, local, and statewide level to protect and improve them. In the small group I participated in, we talked about a number of water issues, from the need for more funding for water projects to what to do about old wells in the north metro area. Our group included people from a variety of backgrounds including a state legislator who was interested in how the State could come up with trackable goals; the mayor of Blaine who has dealt with water projects at the local level for years; the owner of a local well drilling company who had a lot scientific knowledge of the Anoka Sand Plain and the aquifers that lie under it; and north metro area residents who were just really interested in what was going on with water.
We started by coming up with a list of what the most pressing water related issues were in the north metro area and the state as a whole. The list of issues raised included reducing the amount of water used in irrigation; the need for more public engagement to get people to change their behavior; and making the cost of water more accurately reflect the costs associated with it purifying it at the source to clean up polluted water in the long term.
Once we had our list of pressing issues we moved on to discussing new goals for local communities and the state when it came to making progress on these issues. This is a big part of the whole 25 by 25 water goal, after all it can mean different things to different people, and ideas raised included increasing the number of rain gardens in local communities by a specific amount; adequately sealing the vast majority of troubled wells in Anoka County; and reducing the number of lakes and ponds with too much phosphorus as well.
Finally, we talked about some of the barriers that stood in the way of making progress on these goals. Everyone had a variety of answers including the difficultly of educating the public on complex issues; finding ways to get people to change their daily behavior; and finding ways to get adequate funding to organizations and local governments to address water related issues like troubled wells or lakes with too much phosphorus.
While we were having this discussion, 24 other small groups throughout the room were having similar discussions and writing down their results as well. The upshot of this whole process was the creation of a huge amount of feedback about water related problems, possible goals, and barriers to success in the North Metro area.
This meeting was part of Governor Dayton’s 25 by 25 Water Quality Goal which has the stated goal of improving Minnesota’s water quality 25 percent by the year 2025. And these sorts of community water meetings are an important tool for gathering public feedback on subject matters like what the most pressing issues related to water are, what improving water 25 percent means to Minnesotans, and identifying some of the barriers that need to be overcome to reach this ambitious goal.
If you’re interested in getting involved in a similar meeting in your own neck of the woods, the good news is the Governor’s office is still holding town hall style meetings covering these same issues between now and early October. In addition, Conservation Minnesota is holding a number community water conversations similar to the one held in Coon Rapids between now and the end of September.
Feel free to come to any one of these events if you’d be interested in sharing your own ideas, or you can submit your ideas online as well. Not only will you have the chance to learn more about water related issues in your area, but you’ll get to have a great time with great people. I know I did!