In the first week of the year, with the mercury fighting to break its way out of the bottom of the thermometer, it's a fitting time for Governor Dayton to make an important appointment to the Public Utilities Commission. After all, if the PUC is doing its job well, we can all keep warm when the high temp outside is –17.
The PUC is the state’s agency responsible for the regulation of public utilities such as electric, natural gas and landline telephone service. The PUC also has oversight of the construction or modifications to large energy facilities such as electric power plants, transmission lines, wind power generation plants, and large natural gas and petroleum pipelines. When they are doing their jobs well, few, if any, of us ever hear about them.
Governor Dayton’s should be applauded for his appointment of Dan Lipschultz to this important but unsung post. By naming Lipschultz to the Commission, he has given us someone with the diverse experience to make good decisions and a record of protecting consumers. Lipschultz formerly served as the attorney for the commission, and also has experience as a ratepayer advocate for the Attorney General’s Residential and Small Business Utility Division. He understands how vitally important the work done by the PUC is, and he should be able to utilize his career experience to the betterment of all Minnesotans.
So while we all wait for the thermometer to go above zero, I wanted to make sure that the news of this appointment got a bit of extra attention. The selection was about as far from controversial as one can get. But with an agency this important to all Minnesotans, that is a really good thing.
While it may be hard to fathom with all this recent snow, Minnesota has a serious groundwater issue. The images of pontoon boats sitting high and dry on White Bear Lake last summer should have been all the reminder we needed that groundwater is a limited resource and we need to be taking steps now to ensure that we remain the land of 10,000 lakes.
A recent study by the Freshwater Society of Minnesota looked at the groundwater issues Minnesota is currently facing. From their research, they came up with a plan for reducing the strain we currently place on our aquifers. The plan will take some personal responsibility and some political leadership to attain.
The basic thrust of their report was that we cannot maintain our current trajectory when it comes to water usage and not expect to run out of water in certain places. Their analysis indicated that the state’s water usage increased 31 percent between 1988 and 2011. To cut that number, we need to start looking at ways each and every one of us can decrease our personal usage, and work with the various levels of government to ensure that where voluntary reductions are not working, mandatory backstops are in place to help protect this valuable resource.
One way the Freshwater Society proposed getting into a more sustainable water usage pattern was to support DNR initiatives to create groundwater management areas in our most critically threatened areas, and to step up their ability to enforce existing laws that regulate water appropriations that exceed 10,000 gallons a day or a million gallons a year. Currently enforcement is lacking when it comes to major water appropriations, and even in cases where it occurs, the penalty is a misdemeanor that few county attorneys are excited to prosecute. The DNR needs to be given the resources it needs to effectively enforce the rules, as well as the power to extend civil fines against those found to be in violation.
Governor Dayton has suggested in his proposed budget that he would like to see additional state dollars dedicated to increasing the monitoring and research of Minnesota’s groundwater as well as lakes, streams and wetlands to see what can be done to preserve our current resources.
As we shovel what will hopefully be the final sloppy wet snow off the season, it is hard to think about our state’s groundwater needs. But since this is when the budget is coming together, this is when we need to be reminding our elected officials that preserving our groundwater needs to be a high priority moving forward.
A copy of the Freshwater Society report is available at www.freshwater.org.
Today, the Minnesota Senate will begin debating legislation that seeks to build on previous work to get harmful chemicals out of the products our kids use daily.