A New Era (2005­–2014)

By 2005, with finances improving, Freshwater was ripe for reinvigoration. The organization proclaimed the start of a new era as the organization moved into restructuring, reimagining its mission, and rededicating its energy and resources.

In 2007, the board convened an advisory group it called the Guardianship Council to advise it on future directions. The council in turn commissioned a series of white papers on topics such as climate change, drinking water safety and wetlands.

The outcome was publication of a comprehensive report, “Water is Life,” in 2008. The report identified groundwater protection and nonpoint pollution of surface waters as key issues, and proposed policy changes to meet them. And it recommended that Freshwater focus its efforts on building public awareness of issues, connecting pivotal players, and working to reduce agriculture’s adverse impacts on water.

At about the same time, Minnesotans passed the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment to Minnesota’s constitution, increasing the state’s sales tax to provide additional revenue for, among other things, protecting, enhancing and restoring surface waters and protecting groundwater and drinking water. Freshwater quickly recognized the need to take on more of an advocacy role with government and focus its efforts on Minnesota and the Upper Midwest. To enhance its ability to be active in the political arena, Freshwater split into a private foundation and a non-profit organization.

The citizen education component expanded in 2009 as Freshwater took on the Initiative Foundation’s Healthy Lakes and Rivers Partnership, which trains lake associations and similar groups to create management plans for water bodies. In collaboration with the university’s College of Biological Sciences, Freshwater instituted the Moos lecture series, which brings national speakers on water issues to Minnesota twice a year. A variety of other education programs emerged as well, including programs for high school students and neighborhood cleanups with community organizations.

Freshwater’s focus on educating and collaborating with citizens took on some new forms in these years. In 2011 the organization launched MN FarmWise, a farmer-to-farmer effort to boost conservation practices aimed at reducing runoff to the Minnesota River. The Master Water Stewards program began in 2013 as a way to engage citizens in improving water quality at a grassroots level, by learning about the hydrological cycle and about water friendly landscaping techniques such as rain gardens and permeable surfaces. Groundwater remained a major focus, with publication in 2013 of a major report highlighting a disturbing lack of stewardship and coordinated management at the state level.

The next year brought two other major changes. On March 5, 2014, Dick Gray died at the age of 95, marking the end of an era but also reminding Minnesotans, through testimonials and eulogies, of the incredible value of freshwater and of the presence of the Freshwater Society as a key player in protecting our state’s freshwater resources. The same day, Cargill announced it would not renew its lease, freeing Freshwater to sell its building and redirect resources to focus more directly on water quality. Freshwater moved to St. Paul to be close to the decision makers at the Capitol who so valued Freshwater’s work.

In 2014 Freshwater took over as lead organizer of the biennial State of Water conference, which was begun in 2001 as the Minnesota Lakes and Rivers Conference.