Gene Merriam: Money alone will not improve water

A year ago, the Freshwater Society issued a report on Minnesota’s ground and surface waters that took a hard look at the issue of pollution from diffuse sources.

That report, Water Is Life Protecting a Critical Resource For Future Generations, cited a couple of well-known numbers: Only about 20 percent of Minnesota’s lakes and rivers have been fully tested for pollution, and 40 percent of all surface waters fail to meet water-quality standards.

Not long after our report came out, Minnesotans approved a constitutional amendment that raised the sales tax and created a 25-year stream of new dedicated revenue to support clean water.

Gene Merriam

The campaign to pass the amendment coincided with what I sense is growing body of opinion – nationally and beyond – that our waters face huge threats of contamination from countless sources and that our current patterns of water use are not sustainable. In Minnesota, I think we are more aware than we ever have been of the value of our waters and of their fragility.

That awareness and the new dedicated revenue create an unparalleled opportunity for us to clean up our polluted lakes and rivers and protect the waters that are still clean.

I hope that money will be spent well, that it will be targeted to areas where it will make a difference.  Peter Nowak, University of Wisconsin professor, describes our history of agricultural cost-sharing grant programs as one of “random acts of conservation” with little or no water quality improvement.

I want us all to be able to look back in 2034, when the stream of money from that amendment expires, and say we got good value, that our waters are cleaner, safer and more inviting than they were in 2009.

But money alone will not clean up our polluted waters.

We cannot atone for our sins of pollution and neglect just by making a little financial sacrifice. We all have to take responsibility for living our lives differently.

We have to use fewer chemicals and properly dispose of the ones we do use. We must become smarter and more engaged on issues like endocrine disruptors, the new pollution threat that this issue of our newsletter examines in detail. We must change the ways we manage our farms and our cities to reduce and slow runoff. We must change the ways we clear ice from our roads to reduce chloride pollution of both lakes and aquifers. We must all realize that what we do on the land determines our water quality.