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State Rep. Bernie Lieder, DFL-Crookston, column: Clean water matters in Minnesota

By Bernie Lieder CROOKSTON -- We don't often think of water as an expensive resource, but it is, in fact, one of Minnesota's most valuable. And that value will only increase as more evidence confirms that fresh water is not an unlimited resource....

By Bernie Lieder

CROOKSTON -- We don't often think of water as an expensive resource, but it is, in fact, one of Minnesota's most valuable. And that value will only increase as more evidence confirms that fresh water is not an unlimited resource.

Across the country, states and cities are running into water shortages. In Minnesota, especially in the metro area, some communities needed to impose limits on the watering of lawns.

We need to be mindful of how precious fresh water is to the future of our state. I want to discuss the Legislature's efforts to make sure we have clean drinking and groundwater in Minnesota for years to come. I also want to share some information about what other states are doing to conserve water.

For example, some states are offering rebates to consumers who cut their water usage and costs by installing artificial lawns. In this economy, this may be an option more homeowners would consider.

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In California, some farm industries are bolstering their crops and conserving water by irrigating with water that has been recycled from waste. This has been especially useful for the artichoke industry in Castroville, Calif., which now grows 70 percent of America's artichokes, 90 percent of which are irrigated with recycled water.

The idea of recycled water might send you to your refrigerator to start throwing away your produce, but the water poses no risk. An 11-year study by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency found no public health risk and actually determined recycled water contained more beneficial nutrients than well water.

In November, Minnesota voters approved a constitutional amendment that increased our sales tax by 3/8 of 1 cent and dedicated it to pay for outdoor and cultural heritage, parks and trails and clean water. During the session, the Legislature allocated these resources.

About $150 million was used as part of the Clean Water Fund to protect, enhance and restore water quality in lakes and streams and to protect ground and drinking water.

As part of this funding, a grant program was created for local government projects that use wastewater in a beneficial way. I am not certain if any local governments have explored the idea of using wastewater to support Minnesota's rich agricultural economy, but it's something we may want consider.

Additionally, the Clean Water Fund will help pay for several projects designed to do better monitor our drinking water sources. The Environmental Health Division of the Minnesota Department of Health will embark on a risk assessment study of potential drinking water contaminants. It will be a first study of this kind conducted in the United States and is the first time we will look at what could contaminate our water, as opposed to simply tracking what we are already drinking.

Our lakes, rivers and waters set Minnesota apart. In our rapidly evolving world, we should keep looking for new and creative ways to maintain the quality of our water and keep this valuable resource available, accessible and affordable to Minnesotans for decades to come.

Lieder, a DFLer, represents District 1B in the Minnesota House.

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