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Friends of the Mississippi Press Pawlenty to Protect Minnesota Water Habitat

There’s something messy and brown seeping into Minnesota politics.

Nearly four years ago, the Minnesota state legislature mandated that the state Department of Natural Resources revise regulations to reduce gigantic docks jutting into rivers and lakes and also to reduce the amount of human sewage flowing into Minnesota waters. Since waterfront building regulations were issued 20 years ago, the riverfronts and lakefronts of Minnesota have become increasingly studded with the playhomes of vacationers. Under the old antiquated septic system rules the once-sparkling waters of Minnesota have gone brown with poo, green with algae and barren with toxic fish kills, a problem common to waterfront regions across the country. If you said jump in the river I wouldn’t, because it would probably not be a good idea.

For nearly four years, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has been involved in a long, laborious process to develop new regulations, a process involving many meetings with waterfront stakeholders of all sorts and an effort to reach compromise. The final result was a package of reforms that environmentalists call tepid and moderate, requiring new septic systems to be placed further back from the shoreline and new construction to minimize paving and slabs so the ground can absorb more rainfall and there’s not as much runoff.

But then Minnesota Governor and 2012 presidential aspirant Tim Pawlenty intervened, nixing the reforms and sending them back to start all over again. Pawlenty declared that the prevention of sewage runoff into Minnesota waters would be “overreaching” by regulating what goes into the waters and failed to protect the “the equally important right of our citizens to enjoy them and their property.” But while the vacation homes may reside on private property, the human wastes that are expelled from those homes don’t remain on the private property; they leach into Minnesotans’ public property, making the placement of septic systems a public concern. In his parting shot before leaving office and running for President, Tim Pawlenty has ensured the browning of Minnesota’s waters for years into the future.

Now that Pawlenty has struck a blow against water quality in this one area, there is concern that he may press the Department of Natural Resources to strike a blow against water quality again. The Mississippi River Corridor Critical Area was established in 1976 and made a national park in 1988. Yet large homes continue to be built along its banks, not only wrecking the pretty picture-postcard scenery but degrading water quality further. The Minnesota state legislature has tasked the Minnesota DNR with writing regulations for the building of new homes along this stretch of the river in order to protect the water and the parkland for future generations. A DNR draft rule is scheduled to be released by the end of this year… long enough for Governor Pawlenty to bring pressure to bear and muck up the process again.

If you’d like to raise your voice, read up on the corridor and the DNR rulemaking process, then consider adding your name to a petition organized by the Friends of the Mississippi River that reads:

“I urge the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources to write strong and robust rules for the Mississippi River Corridor Critical Area that will protect and enhance the river’s ecological, cultural, scenic and recreational assets. Protection and expansion of riverfront parks, open space and natural areas should be included in the rules to ensure a healthy future for our National Park on the Mississippi.”

It’s not just an online poll; this petition will be delivered to the Department of Natural Resources. If you live in Minnesota, also consider sending a comment directly to the DNR indicating what you like about the rules for the Mississippi River corridor and what areas you feel need to be strengthened.

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