Collaborating to improve water qualityThrough good dialogue you can find good solutions. That was the notion behind a water quality action meeting Thursday night at the St. James Hotel.
By: Regan Carstensen, The Republican Eagle
Through good dialogue you can find good solutions.
That was the notion behind a water quality action meeting Thursday night at the St. James Hotel. Nearly 100 people — farmers, environmental advocates, government agency workers and generally concerned citizens — gathered for several hours to brainstorm and develop solutions that can improve the quality of heavily polluted lakes and rivers in the area.
The conversational-style meeting was one of three held in southern Minnesota. More than 200 people attended the previous discussions in Mankato and Owatonna.
While pollution has been a concern for years, it’s seeing more attention in the midst of a public comment period for a draft pollution-reduction report that the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency recently issued for the south metro portion of the Mississippi River. That 64-mile stretch contains too much sediment to meet the water quality standard for supporting aquatic life, and citizens are concerned not just about local effects, but the subsequent effects to areas downstream.
During the collaborative meeting in Red Wing, a handful of ideas were suggested as ways to take action on improving water quality.
“There is an effort here not just to generate ideas and go home and hope,” host Jerry Nagel explained, adding that the goal of the evening was to leave with momentum and plans for moving forward.
One of the most popular ideas that participants developed was centered on youths.
“In my opinion, water quality isn’t something we’re going to fix today, tomorrow, in a year or in 10 years,” said Bob Stark, deputy director of utilities for Red Wing Public Works.
By educating future generations and getting them to care about the environment, rivers and lakes have a much better chance of survival, Stark said.
Attendee Linda Valeri agreed, explaining that adults can start educating children by “getting them unplugged from their electronic devices and introducing them to nature.”
There are schools that already offer programs called “Agriculture in the Classroom,” but some people question whether those make any effort to link farm production with conservation and environmental issues.
“I’m not sure they’re addressing the issues that we need to have addressed,” explained Gibbon, Minn., dairy farmer Loretta Jaus. “And I think we’re missing an opportunity there because it’s very one-sided.”
Many people at the meeting agreed that getting youths involved can create additional positive effects, such as policy changes several years down the road when those same children reach voting age.
“There’s just so many ripples of wellness there by empowering kids,” attendee Lori Lindgren-Voit noted.
Another prevalent idea regarded increasing community involvement.
“We need to make the issue visible,” Patrick Moore of CURE — Clean Up the River Environment — said, suggesting the use of social media, as well as the use of athletes, celebrities and politicians to increase awareness.
Everything from a potluck supper with MPCA representatives to ladies’ night out on the farm was suggested as a way to bring people together for more collaboration. And, attendee DeeAnne Bonebright added, there are residual benefits to combining efforts — particularly the possibility that various state agencies might follow suit.
“If these agencies see their stakeholders working together more collaboratively … then they’re more likely to do it,” Bonebright said.