‘Another Flint, Michigan’: Dayton vows to continue fight for clean water

WILLMAR -- Stating that he's not going to allow Minnesota to become "another Flint, Michigan on a larger geographic scale,'' Gov. Mark Dayton vowed he would continue to fight for water quality improvements despite what he called his recent "dunki...

WILLMAR - Stating that he’s not going to allow Minnesota to become “another Flint, Michigan on a larger geographic scale,’’ Gov. Mark Dayton vowed he would continue to fight for water quality improvements despite what he called his recent “dunking’’ on farm buffer requirements.

“Look at Flint, Michigan. Look at what happens when people bury their heads in the sand and a few vested people say ‘we want it our way,’” Dayton said Saturday.

He spoke at the Minnesota Pheasants Forever convention in Willmar.
“Now they’re paying the price. So I’m going to go around and going to make this as much as I can a real concern for Minnesotans.’’
Dayton was in Willmar to accept awards from Pheasants Forever recognizing his work on behalf of conservation.
He spoke to the group shortly after announcing he instructed the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources to stop mapping private ditches as among those where buffers must be installed as part of a law approved during the last legislative session. The law will require a 16-1/2 foot vegetative buffer along ditches.
The governor called his decision a “tactical retreat.’’ He said he was told it would jeopardize his ability to obtain legislative approval for his bonding requests for water improvements, conservation and the agencies overseeing the initiatives. He did not want to sacrifice those measures for a buffer law requirement for private ditches that would not come into effect until November 2018.
But he told his audience he was “not walking away’’ from his commitment to clean water. He intends to raise the issue when he makes an 86-day tour of the state’s 87 counties this summer. Dayton said he’d raise the issue of water quality in every county where a recent Minnesota Pollution Control Agency study had identified that most of the waterways and bodies were impaired.
He said the backlash over the private ditch buffer requirement was a revelation to him.
“It boggles my mind because I don’t know anywhere else in Minnesota where this attitude is ‘Well, this is my private ditch so I can do whatever I want,’ ‘’ Dayton said.
Landowners have the right to do whatever they want on their land, as long as it is legal. But waters from private ditches flow into public systems, lakes and rivers.
“You’ve got a responsibility,’’ Dayton said, “because if you’re not doing your fair share and that water is going down polluted, contaminated with fertilizer or with livestock manure, whatever, it does matter.’’
He pointed out that both surface and groundwater in large areas of the agricultural region of the state are impaired and unsafe for human use and drinking. Small, rural communities are installing water treatment systems they cannot always afford to treat contaminated water.
“That didn’t just happen,’’ he said of the impairments. “Some people made that happen.’’
He said he has great respect for farmers and appreciation for what they do and said most are excellent stewards.
“There’s always some out there who basically say ‘we should be able to do whatever we want,’ ‘’ Dayton said.
He bemoaned the acceptance of this in many small towns of southwestern and western Minnesota as “that’s just the way it is.’’
“That’s the way it is because we let it become that way, and that’s the way it is if we don’t do anything about it. In fact, it will get worse,’’ Dayton said.
“We cannot let this continue. We can’t say we’ll become another Flint, Michigan on a larger geographic scale with the same result that our citizens don’t have safe water to drink and to use,’’ he said.
U.S. Congressman Collin Peterson, D-Thief River Falls, also addressed the Pheasants Forever gathering and said he too supports efforts to improve water quality. The Congressman said he felt that Dayton’s decision to back off on the private ditch buffer requirement was the right move.
“We need to figure out how to work together make it happen,’’ Peterson said of improving water quality.
“I think actually what you did on the private ditches is probably the right thing now, to get through this,’’ the Congressman told Dayon. “The big problem out there is farmers don’t know what is going to happen and they are nervous.’’
He applauded DNR commissioner Tom Landwehr for his leadership of the agency but said many farmers remain nervous about the department.

Related Topics: WATER QUALITY
Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoors reporter for the West Central Tribune.
He has been a reporter with the West Central Tribune since 1993.

Cherveny can be reached via email at or by phone at 320-214-4335.
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