Monday, April 18, 2016

Water Action Week, how to create a water ethic?

As proclaimed by Governor Mark Dayton, today is the kickoff of Water Action Week in Minnesota. The first suggestion of what we can do to help is to

1.     Learn About Your Water Quality – Learn more about the water around you, including the challenges facing our lakes, rivers, and clean drinking water systems, and the actions you can take to make a difference – because Minnesotans who understand the problems facing our waters will be better equipped and motivated to be part of the solution.

Sunrise River at Wyoming
Sunrise River at Wyoming
Photo by J. Harrington

The water around me flows through the Sunrise River watershed, a major tributary to the wild and scenic St. Croix River, which is a tributary of the mighty Mississippi. The water quality of the Sunrise is "impaired" by excess phosphorus, fecal coliform bacteria, and other pollutants. The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency [MPCA], working with a multitude of local agencies in the watershed, has drafted a plan to reduce those pollution loads. Comments provided by the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy identify a number of shortcomings in the draft plan and its background and the implementation strategies proposed. The US EPA approved the plan, including a response that "EPA believes that MPCA adequately addressed each of these [MCEA's] comments and updated the final TMDL with appropriate language to address these comments." There's no easy way I've found to compare draft versus final and see what changed.

Sunrise River, east of Stacy
Sunrise River, east of Stacy
Photo by J. Harrington

Years before I started writing this blog, I spent something like 25 years working in water quality and water wollution control planning, both in Massachusetts and in Minnesota. I have also been an active volunteer with local conservation organizations, particularly those emphasizing water quality. Based on that training and experience, I'm concerned that neither the Governor, nor the MPCA, will achieve the level of voluntary commitment to a "water ethic" to successfully protect Minnesota's water quality until or unless there is the equivalent of the famous "one page memo for the governor."

We need something that effectively summarizes the status of water quality, who's doing what, and, perhaps most importantly, what real world progress is, or is not, being made and why. Both professionally and personally I care about the environment, particularly water. But even I am not going to spend the time required to sort through reams and reams of electronic documents to find out what's going on in my own (relatively) small watershed. We desperately need an accepted "water ethic" if we're going to try to attain "fishable small, swimmable" waters. Citizen volunteers, I believe, need a clearer sense of where and how their actions fit into a bigger picture. The list below is the current picture of the Sunrise River as conveyed by MPCA's website. It represents a classic example of what's wrong with a voluntary approach melded onto a bureaucratic and regulatory framework. Reality may exist somewhere in the listing below, but it takes too long to find.

The TMDL report is 133 pages. EPA's approval letter is 37 pages. The WRAPS report another 80 pages. Really? Is this the way to motivate volunteers? How do all, or any, of the actions on the governor's announcement page relate to the reports and contacts listed below? How do we know we've become part of the solution instead of part of the problem. I've read the "WRAPS" and some of the other reports. I don't recall seeing anything in these reports about turning off the water when I brush my teeth, oor thaking shorter showers. As former Senator Wellstone noted, "we all do better when we all do better," and I'd add, especially when we all know we're pulling in the same direction. This is the list of reports from which we're to try to "understand the problems," and a list of contacts, presumably involved who may, or may not, be able to help us.

TMDL report and implementation plan

WRAPS report

Other documents

Approved or other TMDLs in the watershed


Information contact

Christopher Klucas, Project Manager
520 Lafayette Rd
St. Paul, MN 55155

Going for Water

Robert Frost, 1874 - 1963

The well was dry beside the door,  
  And so we went with pail and can  
Across the fields behind the house  
  To seek the brook if still it ran;  
Not loth to have excuse to go,
  Because the autumn eve was fair  
(Though chill), because the fields were ours,  
  And by the brook our woods were there.  
We ran as if to meet the moon  
  That slowly dawned behind the trees,
The barren boughs without the leaves,  
  Without the birds, without the breeze.  
But once within the wood, we paused  
  Like gnomes that hid us from the moon,  
Ready to run to hiding new
  With laughter when she found us soon.  
Each laid on other a staying hand  
  To listen ere we dared to look,  
And in the hush we joined to make  
  We heard, we knew we heard the brook. 
A note as from a single place,  
  A slender tinkling fall that made  
Now drops that floated on the pool  
  Like pearls, and now a silver blade.

Thanks for visiting. Come again when you can.
Please be kind to each other while you can.