Minnesota: Land of 10,000 water laws?

Minnesota has a long history of passing laws aimed at addressing how water affects people — and how people affect our valuable waters. That is why we at Freshwater take such an active interest in the legislative session every year – it’s right here in our mission statement: To inspire and empower people to value and preserve our freshwater resources.

In the mid-1800’s Alexander Ramsey, Minnesota’s first elected governor, said if we drained the swamps and marshes Minnesota would have more productive lands and citizens would suffer less disease. Indeed, laws to facilitate drainage were some of the first water laws passed into legislation not long after our statehood.

Concerns about economic growth and public health drove some of Minnesota’s first water laws, which now occupy 431 pages in Section 103 of Minnesota Statutes (referred to as “Minnesota Water Law”). Today’s laws also aim to protect water quantity and quality, conserve agricultural soil and water resources, reduce the impact of flooding, clean up polluted groundwater, and much more. Our laws lay a solid, expertise-based approach to water management and governance. They establish some of the most comprehensive programs for data collection and analysis (for lakes, streams, wetlands, watersheds, and groundwater) that are the envy of most other states.

Minnesota’s water laws are complex, yes, but also comprehensive. They grant far-reaching authority for local governments (watershed districts, counties, and cities) to address community water challenges through local planning and action.

At Freshwater, we promote science-based public policy and laws that empower and inspire local action. We need the Minnesota Water Law and will be hard at work this coming year at the Capitol to make sure it is effectively put into practice.

— John Linc Stine, executive director