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CLC forum tackles water pollution in Minnesota

The fight against water pollution took center stage Monday at a Rosenmeier Forum in the Chalberg Theatre at the Central Lakes College Brainerd campus.

Dan Steward of the Board of Water and Soil Resources, left, answers an audience question during a Rosenmeier Forum on Minnesota's water quality Monday at Central Lakes College as Todd Holman of the Nature Conservancy, right, looks on. Zach Kayser/Brainerd Dispatch
Dan Steward of the Board of Water and Soil Resources, left, answers an audience question during a Rosenmeier Forum on Minnesota's water quality Monday at Central Lakes College as Todd Holman of the Nature Conservancy, right, looks on. Zach Kayser/Brainerd Dispatch

The fight against water pollution took center stage Monday at a Rosenmeier Forum in the Chalberg Theatre at the Central Lakes College Brainerd campus.

The forum, titled "The Future of Northern Minnesota Water," was headlined by Todd Holman of The Nature Conservancy and Dan Steward of the Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources.

The watersheds of the Crow Wing River, the Pine River, the Rum River and the Sauk River are all areas of interest to conservationists looking to prevent pollution, Holman said. He said his group likes to focus on the confluence between economics and water quality- where it makes sense financially to protect water. There's a strong dollars and cents argument for water conservation, particularly for cities, who would otherwise have to spend (and tax) millions to treat contaminated water.

However, economics can also hurt conservation, he said. For example, the number of farmers participating in water conservation programs went down as commodity prices rose because it wasn't profitable to stick to the programs and forego plowing the land, Holman said. In addition, urban growth in economic boom times also means water is at higher risk for contamination.

Minnesota's "glacial till soils" make it especially vulnerable to pollution, Holman said: the sandy, permeable soil means surface water contamination can easily become groundwater contamination.

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Steward's presentation began with a quote attributed to famous World War II aviator James Doolittle: "Americans are good fixers, but we aren't very good preventers."

His talk centered on the concrete steps environmental watchdogs are taking to buck that trend and prevent pollution. The go-to method in their toolbox is the conservation easement, where landowners essentially give up the right to develop their water-adjacent land in exchange for incentives from the government. Other tools include education, mitigation fixes such as rain gardens, and buying land outright.

The existence of solid data on water quality on a particular lake makes prevention efforts more likely to be funded, Steward said, giving Serpent Lake near Crosby as an example. Oftentimes, state-level groups will depend on data from local lake associations in order to help decide which lakes need the most protection.

Private land is associated with a high risk to adjacent water, so it's an essential goal to have partnerships between conservation groups and those private landowners, Steward said. Many landowners are conservation-minded, because their appreciation of the northwoods' lakes and rivers is why they live there in the first place, he said.

ZACH KAYSER may be reached at 218-855-5860 or Zach.Kayser@brainerddispatch.com . Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ZWKayser .

Related Topics: WATER QUALITY
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