Friday, February 26, 2016

Go with the flow at the Water Summit?

The day before yesterday, I mentioned our icy driveway. Today, those concerns were put to shame. About a mile or so South of our drive, three of the neighborhood children were literally ice skating in (on?) what I assume is their own drive. I suppose that shows what losing some creativity as we age can do to us, although I do remember, when I was junior high age, or thereabouts, skiing down the driveway of an old, Victorian house we lived in in Hingham, Massachusetts. It was lots of fun until I almost got run over by the car driving by on the road our driveway intersected. My thinking was short-sighted.

Mississippi River in Minneapolis
Photo by J. Harrington

Given tomorrow's forecast, local snow and ice cover will soon be minimized if not eliminated for the time being. My sympathy goes out to those who'll be stuck inside at the Governor's "Water Summit." I'm planning on enjoying some time outside tomorrow. I'll read about what happened at the Summit in the news on Sunday. From the list of topics, I'm disappointed that there doesn't seem to be a more systemic approach to the thinking behind the Summit. For example, much (all?) of Minnesota's agriculture is heavily subsidized. What, if any, are the existing requirements linking qualifications for agricultural subsidy with clean water standards, or are we, as a society, actually subsidizing farmers to pollute our surface and groundwater.

I agree with the Governor's idea that we should focus on solutions rather than blame, unless the blame lies with out institutional systems as well as our physical ones. I did a little research earlier today and was surprised to discover that "organic farming" isn't necessarily a panacea for clean water. You'll get a chance to read more about that here when I've done a better job of cross- and double-checking (no, not the hockey kind). Here's the basics of my current thinking though:
  • If a voluntary approach for water quality is good enough for agriculture, it should also be good enough for industry and urban wastewater. (I'm not saying this idea isn't all wet, just that it's time for more equity in our approach if we really want to solve the problem.)

  • We shouldn't let politics distort priorities in the expenditure of Legacy funds and or the selection of projects. We've already committed half a billion dollars to clean water. Are we following the right strategy?

  • We need to be mindful that many of the communities that now need additional state funding to upgrade their water and wastewater facilities probably needed federal and state funding to construct them in the first place. Chuck Marohn or someone else from Strong Towns could probably share some worthwhile thoughts on this issue.

  • We need lots more thinking about what else needs to change to get the water quality we want and need. I still have a few scars from the days I worked for the Metropolitan Council and was "educated" by Minnesotans in the southeast corner of the state that "we can't all live upstream." The metro area finished separating its historic combined sewer systems, eliminating those raw sewage discharges to the Mississippi River.

  • Lowering water quality standards or playing other political games does a disservice to those Minnesotans who depend on government to protect their commons. I'm still trying to understand how the drivers of the decision-making process that led to changing Flint's water supply source differ from the drivers to the approach Minnesota is using to "protect" its manoomin from polluted water. Is minimizing protection to save dollars and / or jobs in the short term the kind of answer we want?

The Sugar Thief

By Ned Balbo

If it was free, you taught, I ought to grab it
as you did: McDonald’s napkins, pens,
and from the school where you were once employed
as one of two night shift custodians,
the metal imitation wood wastebasket
still under my desk. But it was sugar
that you took most often as, annoyed
on leaving Dunkin’ Donuts, pancake house,
and countless diners, I felt implicated
in your pleasure, crime, and poverty.
I have them still, your Ziploc bags of plunder,
yet I find today, among the loose
change in my pockets, packets crushed or faded—
more proof of your lasting legacy.

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