WORTHINGTON — Minnesota's Clean Water Council visited southwest Minnesota on Sunday and Monday to hear about local projects being done to address drinking water, water treatment, wildlife protection and other programs that revolve around the science of water, including aquifers, groundwater and wells.
“People are getting safer drinking water because all of these agencies and local partners are working together,” said Paul Gardner, administrator of the Clean Water Council, a state advisory council created by the Minnesota legislature in 2006 to advise legislators on water issues and how to implement the Clean Water Legacy Act.
After the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment to the Minnesota Constitution took effect in 2009, the Clean Water Council was tasked with recommending how to spend that money, Gardner explained. In December, the 25-year period set for that amendment will be halfway through, and correspondingly, about half of the available money from the amendment has been appropriated for projects.
That money can be a little confusing to track, because it is mostly used by government agencies partnering with local groups for specific projects.
The Clean Water Council is made up of representatives from many different agencies such as the Board of Water and Soil Resources, the Minnesota Department of Health, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, the University of Minnesota, the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, watershed districts, township officers, county governments, tribal governments, and statewide hunting, fishing, environmental and farm groups. Those representing the six state agencies and the U of M, as well as four legislators who represent the Legislature, are nonvoting members.
Following an afternoon of presentations at the Worthington Event Center on Sunday, the group headed into the field on Monday.
“I was worried that we wouldn’t have enough (projects) to show, but it turns out that there is a lot going on,” Gardner said of water projects in Nobles, Rock and Pipestone counties.
The scheduled tour included presentations from Doug Bos, assistant director of the Rock County Soil and Water Conservation District/Land Management office, and John Shea, Nobles County Soil and Water Conservation District manager.
Monday’s stops included a presentation from Scott Rall of Pheasants Forever at the Worthington Wells Wildlife Management Area in Bigelow Township, where Pheasants Forever and multiple governmental agencies partnered to purchase 147 acres of land for $850,000 for public land use and wellhead protection.
The group also visited the city of Adrian’s wellhead protection area, and heard about the city’s Clean Water Fund-backed efforts to reduce the level of nitrates in its drinking water. They had a stop scheduled at Blue Mounds State Park near Luverne, to talk about stream restoration for the benefit of the endangered Topeka Shiner, and learned about community assistance for the “unsewered/undersewered” communities of Trosky in Pipestone County, and Reading and Dundee in Nobles County.
In Pipestone, they toured the “We Are Water” exhibit at the Meinders Community Library and heard about chloride reduction efforts at the Pipestone Water Treatment Plant.
Many of the presentations were about the unique geology of the area, which makes drinking water supply a little more challenging, Gardner said.
“Pipestone and Rock counties do not have very deep aquifers and the water quality is sometimes somewhat difficult,” he added.
Most of the projects Clean Water funds are used for are locally-driven but state-funded, Gardner said, and funding can even act as a match to federal dollars. They’re also often used for basic research investigating the geology or hydrology of an area, or for long-term efforts to solve a persistent water-related problem. Clean Water money can also be used for planning and financing tools.
“Rural Minnesota tends to get the majority of the funds,” Gardner said.