MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Gov. Mark Dayton is asking the 800 people slated to attend his first Governor’s Water Summit on Saturday to be ready to talk about solutions instead of blame for the problems facing Minnesota’s lakes, rivers and drinking water.
Dayton picked nine broad topics he wants the summit to address, his office announced Wednesday. They range from reducing pollutants in storm runoff in the urban environment, to protecting water in the rural environment while allowing agriculture and businesses to thrive, to how best to use clean water funds from the state’s Legacy Amendment before the sales tax increase expires in 2034.
Other topics for the breakout sessions include challenges facing Minnesota’s iconic waters such as Lake Superior, the Mississippi River and the Boundary Waters; how to pay for estimated $11 billion in upgrades needed for Minnesota’s drinking water and wastewater infrastructure; and stopping the spread of aquatic invasive species.
“We have critical water quality problems in Minnesota, and in many areas, metro and rural, they’re getting even worse. We cannot ignore them. We have to face up to them and work together to solve them,” Dayton said when he announced the summit in November.
The gathering at the InterContinental Saint Paul Riverfront hotel will bring together water quality experts, farmers, lawmakers, regulators, the business community, local leaders and other concerned citizens.
Interest in the summit has been high. Registration filled up within 36 hours of when it opened last month — even though Dayton and his staff provided hardly any public specifics about the agenda before this week.
“Minnesotans love their water, which is a great thing,” said Kate Brauman, lead scientist for the Global Water Initiative at the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment, who was involved in some of the pre-summit discussions.
To allow more people to participate, the governor’s office will livestream Dayton’s opening remarks over the Internet on Saturday morning, as well as an afternoon panel discussion led by Lt. Gov Tina Smith on the role of the business community in addressing the state’s water challenges. Dayton’s staff has also set up an online forum where people who are attending, and those who can’t, can submit ideas and vote on proposed solutions. The public can also take an online survey.
Dayton has vowed to make water quality a top priority for the remainder of his term, which will be his last. The Democratic governor’s $1.4 billion borrowing proposal for public construction projects for the upcoming legislative session includes $220 million to help cash-strapped communities pay for water infrastructure improvements. Yet he backed off under pressure from Republicans and agriculture groups from including private ditches in his signature water quality initiative so far — stronger requirements for leaving buffer strips of vegetation between farm fields and waterways.
President Barack Obama’s administration is preparing for its own water summit to help develop strategies for ensuring the country has enough water when and where it’s needed. It’s set for March 22, which is United Nations World Water Day.
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