Water quality: A Minnesota maelstrom
Category: Fields and StreamsVia: community • 7 years ago • 7 comments
When it comes to protecting water, Minnesota voters have stepped up twice, by amending the state Constitution to raise funds through the State Lottery and by expanding the sales tax. The result is tens of millions of dollars spent annually on the state’s storied lakes and rivers.
So, with all that spending, water quality must be improving, right?
No, say multiple state reports. In fact, things are getting worse.
Last year Gov. Mark Dayton declared that water quality decline is “serious.” He assembled a daylong water summit in February, and he’s now embarked on a campaign to explain to a tuned-out public that the problem really is as bad as reports say.
But despite all the spending, planning and persuading — and faux cooing about “success” — the quality of lakes, rivers and groundwater continues to slide.
A must-read series by the Star Tribune’s Josephine Marcotty ( “Danger Downstream,” Oct. 2-4) detailed how rivers like the Mississippi are spiraling toward an “ecological precipice.” The north-flowing Red River is so sullied when it leaves the U.S. that it’s enlarging an oxygen-depleted “dead zone” in Lake Winnipeg.
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency lists 4,600 lakes and stream segments as “impaired,” some no longer “fishable or swimmable.” Nitrates in groundwater from excessive fertilizer use exceed safe-drinking standards.
It’s true that 1970s-era laws brought cleaner water and air than we had in the “good old days,” when the rivers and sky were, literally, smelly waste dumps.
But those laws excluded pollutants like farm and lawn chemicals, and local zoning has promoted conversion of forests to cropping and other development that brings ever-increasing runoff of bad stuff. There’s worry over spreading invasive species and even over residue of medicines carelessly flushed down toilets.
It’s a classic “tragedy of the commons,” in which folks acting “rationally” in their own individual self-interest damage a common resource in a way that harms everyone, including themselves.
No one’s to blame. Everyone is.