ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Governor Mark Dayton on Friday announced an ambitious goal for cleaning up Minnesota's waters: a 25 percent improvement by the year 2025.
"This would not be a regulation, it will be a call to action," the governor told those who gathered on the U of M St. Paul campus for the annual Minnesota Environmental Congress meeting.
Dayton has been sounding the alarm about Minnesota's troubled waters for years, conducting water summits and town halls throughout the state. More than 40 percent of the state's waterways are considered impaired or polluted, based on current scientific standards.
Dozens of lakes and streams, especially in the southern and western areas of the state, have been listed as unsafe for fishing or swimming. Runoff from farm fields and city lawns had carried raised levels of nitrates and phosphorous in lakes and rivers.
But the governor acknowledges that the people will have more impact on water quality than government policies ever will.
"We have to create an ethic in Minnesota that everyone is responsible for clean water through their daily practices, their business practices, their farming practices – everybody has their part of the responsibility to make these improvements."
The governor's Year of Water Action webpage is filled with links to practical things people can do on their own to make a difference, actions as simple as cutting back on how much rock salt they put on their walkways.
That doesn't mean he's going to give up on his fledgling, and nation-leading, farm land buffer program, designed to slow soil erosion and filter pesticides and herbicides before they enter streams and rivers.
And recently the Minn. Dept. of Agriculture and the USDA announced a combined investment of $500 million into the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program, which pays farmers to remove environmentally sensitive land from crop production.
"Minnesotans care about clean water," Dayton said, citing the Legacy Amendment voters passed in 2008, which established a new three-eighths of one cent statewide sales tax for the environment and the arts.
"They were willing to tax themselves higher in order to advance that cause. It’s not enough to solve our water degradation issues."
The "25 by 25" slogan is modeled after the phrase former Gov. Tim Pawlenty's used in 2006, when he set the goal of moving the state to 25 percent renewable energy sources by the year 2025.
A year later he signed a legislative mandate into law, and since then the expansion of wind generated, solar and geothermal energy has taken Minnesota to the 21 percent level with eight years remaining still to hit the goal.
"We’ve shown we can take the initiative, citizens leadership, local and state officials, Xcel Energy and others, and we’re going to take that kind of leadership in this case with water quality," Dayton told reporters.