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Q: How would you grade Minnesota’s water quality?
A: “We’ve done a pretty good job in this state with addressing end-of-pipe sources of pollution,” Woods said. The harder challenge is to reduce pollution from urban sources, farm fields and other “non-point” sources of chemicals, fertilizers and erosion.
One example is salt runoff from roads and highways that pollutes creeks and streams, Woods said. The society’s annual salt symposium has become a place for professionals to compare notes and share techniques about how to use less salt or substitute materials, he said, while keeping winter roads safe.
Q: What other concerns might the society focus on?
A: “You can’t have a discussion about water quality without talking about agricultural runoff,” Woods said. The society plans to “ramp up” dialogue about that, he said, but in a way that respects different farmers and types of farms. “One of the shortcomings that often happens in discussions about agriculture is that people treat it as some sort of monolithic sector rather than realizing that there are vastly different goals and norms, depending on which elements of the ag sector you’re talking about.”
Q: Any on-the-ground projects ahead for the society?
A: Freshwater will continue its Master Water Stewards program, Woods said, which just finished its first year of training volunteers to help their neighbors prevent runoff pollution through planting rain gardens and other projects. It will also continue partnering with local groups on community cleanups to keep leaves, pet waste, dirt and other debris from washing into waterways.
The good thing about those programs is that they get people physically involved, Woods said. “We’ve got a belief that people care about things that they’ve seen, or that they’ve been in, or that they’ve boated on,” he said. “They’re going to care more about things that they’ve invested some sweat equity in.”
Q: Tell me something from your experience in state government that will be helpful in your new job.
A: “There isn’t a SWAT team of state or federal workers who have shovels and silver bullets to shoot at water quality problems. Time after time where we see water quality improvements, we also see a very vocal and a very active citizenry challenging their local leadership and organizing themselves to make something good happen,” Woods said. “I’d love to see a day when citizens realize that for their lakes and rivers, they can’t count on somebody else to save the day.”
Tom Meersman • 612-673-7388