Thursday, March 5, 2015

The Minnesota I once knew

The sun is shining, the sky is blue, tonight is a full moon and tomorrow's temperature is supposed to get above freezing. In fact, the forecast looks like above freezing temperatures for going on the next two weeks. I am so looking forward to seeing melt and mud and Minnesota's close approximation of Spring. I'm used to our two seasons of road construction and ...

Mississippi River in the Twin Cities
Mississippi River in the Twin Cities
Photo by J. Harrington

I've lived in this state for something like forty years. At the time I moved here, the Metro Council and fiscal disparities were the envy of metropolitan areas throughout the country. Minnesota was know as a state that worked and its residents lived the good life. One of the reasons the Metro Council was created was to respond to the water pollution that inadequate wastewater treatment systems were contributing to the degradation of area's lakes and streams, particularly Lake Minnetonka. This morning, though, I read in the Star Tribune a commentary by Mary Hess, mayor of Aurora. She claims, on behalf of a number of Iron Range mayors and communities, Lower sulfates? The cost is just too high.

The cost to improve wastewater treatment in the late 1960s early 1970s was too high if each community had to go it alone. That's why a regional solution was implemented. Later, to improve the quality of the Mississippi River and the effectiveness of processes at metropolitan wastewater treatment plants, while also reducing treatment costs, federal standards were imposed for pretreatment of industrial wastewater discharges to public treatment systems. Many of the Twin Cities' smaller electroplaters and metal plating job shops didn't have the financing, or, in some cases, the physical space to install needed pretreatment systems. In those far, far away days I had the challenging pleasure of working with a number of those platers to get designed, created, and financed a Metals Recovery Facility that enabled employers to meet environmental requirements and protect jobs.

Metal Recovery Systems Founders Award
Metal Recovery Systems Founders Award
Photo by J. Harrington

The Minnesota I moved to and have lived in for many years had a reputation for working together, for having both a healthy economy and a healthy environment and for doing things its own way, usually through cooperation. I fear I'm seeing less and less of that these days. Wild rice is part of the state's environmental heritage. It seems to me that protecting wild rice is a question of environmental justice that Native Americans, particularly the Ojibwe, deserve. The questions I expect Minnesotans to ask are: What should we do to protect our heritage and how can we afford to do it? Speaking as a non-native to thsi state, a cry that we can't afford to protect the environment strikes me as so non-Minnesotan.

The Twin Cities have done a phenomenal job cleaning up the Mississippi River's water quality. We were among national leaders in separating our storm water and sewer systems. (I still have some tender spots where the citizens of Red Wing explained to me that "we can't all live upstream.") Now we need to take care of the agricultural interests in the Minnesota River and other  watersheds, and we're among nation leaders there. We also need to bring more of our waters into compliance with water quality standards. The two keys to much of our success have been cooperation and regional solutions. I'd love to see the Dayton administration, and the new leadership at the IRRRB, make Minnesota an international leader at cost effectively and cooperatively addressing the pollution issues related to mining. Maybe parts of the range could be turned into eco-industrial parks. That type of approach has been proven to be much more effective at creating jobs, high-paying jobs, while protecting the environment, much more so than claiming "it costs too much." In fact, the metals recovery facility is cited by the EPA in a report to congress as a successful but challenging to establish model.


By Emily Pauline Johnson 

A thin wet sky, that yellows at the rim,
And meets with sun-lost lip the marsh’s brim.

The pools low lying, dank with moss and mould,
Glint through their mildews like large cups of gold.

Among the wild rice in the still lagoon,
In monotone the lizard shrills his tune.

The wild goose, homing, seeks a sheltering,
Where rushes grow, and oozing lichens cling.

Late cranes with heavy wing, and lazy flight,
Sail up the silence with the nearing night.

And like a spirit, swathed in some soft veil,
Steals twilight and its shadows o’er the swale.

Hushed lie the sedges, and the vapours creep,
Thick, grey and humid, while the marshes sleep. 

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