There were several million people living in drought-affected areas of Minnesota over the summer. Is the current drought the worst we’ve experienced? No. Is the situation as severe as in the southwest, where enormous reservoirs are disappearing, the Colorado River, which was once a powerful river, no longer flows into the ocean, and where geologists claim this is the worst drought in 1,200 years?
But we should think again in light of this dry season and the water limitations Minnesota DNR requested earlier this month. Although the Land of 10,000 Lakes may not yet be drying up and few people may be concerned about whether the water they drink and play in is contaminated, warning signs are everywhere.
Our access to clean water cannot be taken for granted.
Unfortunately, a lot of governmental organizations and politicians are already doing this.
A bill that would have provided funding to research and develop a science-based strategy to safeguard Minnesota’s water, for instance, passed the DFL-led House but was killed in the GOP-majority Senate during the most recent legislative session. Simply put, this law would have mandated independent experts to provide a detailed strategy to guarantee the state had access to clean water for the next 50 years. Even this minimal need was rejected, though.
Why has the quality of the water in our state turned into a politicized issue? Why aren’t we all coming together to support the resource that every Minnesotan needs and on which every area of our economy depends?
Instead, a great deal of political effort is put into advancing contentious projects that endanger our pure water.
To manage our natural resources, the Minnesota DNR granted permission for Line 3. Three aquifers were breached during the building of this pipeline, contaminating the nearby groundwater. The Canadian business Enbridge, which is in charge of Line 3, is facing criminal charges and a hefty fine, but these belated reprimands do little to improve the quality of the now-polluted water.
The PolyMet copper-sulfide mine was given permission by the DNR in 2018, allowing a notoriously toxic industry to establish itself in Minnesota. Since copper-sulfide mining is substantially worse than conventional iron mining, it has never been done in Minnesota. Anywhere in the globe, there has never been a copper-sulfide mine that did not contaminate the local waterways. PolyMet would be disastrous for freshwater in an area like northern Minnesota that is abundant in water.
Furthermore, PolyMet would contaminate Lake Superior, which has 10% of the freshwater in the world. The city of Duluth also receives its drinking water mostly from the lake.
The PolyMet licenses were hastily approved and had several errors that broke the law and endangered people. Thankfully, concerned citizens and Native groups successfully fought to temporarily halt the dangerous project in court.
What use is it to demand water limits from the populace if our state then permits foreign extractive enterprises to contaminate even more pristine water for financial gain?
What if we invested more efforts in protecting our most valuable resource instead of enabling these polluting industries? This question is not merely rhetorical. The call to action is urgent.
According to some projections, over half of the world’s population may experience water scarcity by 2025. Due to record-breaking droughts in California and efforts by other states to purchase Minnesota’s clean water, this scarcity is already having an impact on the United States. Sadly, 56% of Minnesota’s waterways already have impairments.
And things are only getting worse.
The state of Minnesota now considers 2,904 bodies of water to be unhealthy due to a variety of pollutants, including mercury, algae growth, PFAS, and other “forever chemicals.” In 2022, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency added 305 water bodies to its list of Impaired Waters, bringing the total to that number to 305.
The writing is on the wall for everyone who is ready to read it. Future worries are unfounded. There is now a clean, freshwater scarcity affecting both the world and the United States.
The time is now for our elected officials and governmental agencies to act. Let’s not wait till Minnesota is completely in turmoil.