Those who suspect the Legislature's assembly each winter is a waste of time were buoyed in that belief when the state's lawmakers adjourned recently with little to show for their efforts except for the per diem expenses they were reimbursed. This is especially true in the fields of natural resource management and conservation, two subjects legislators alternately disregard entirely and meddle with incessantly, neither, usually, to the benefit of anyone, or anything.
Water proves the point. Minnesota's blessing, and curse — for the complexity of its maintenance — water is the lifeblood of this state, not just as nurturer of corn, soybeans and other produces, nor only for its sustenance of people and wildlife, but for the recreation it provides.
Witness especially at this time of year the infinite number of Minnesotans who boat on water, and fish, swim and wade in it.
Yet a year ago when Gov. Mark Dayton proposed that farmers and other landowners be required to buffer some of the stream, river and ditch banks that crisscross their southern, western and northwestern properties like latticework, legislators, a relative few excepted, put up their dukes.
The legislators' defensive crouches were intended — however nonsensically, given everyone's dependence on clean water — to insulate from responsibility their rural constituents, some of whom for generations have flushed downstream various toxic by-catches of their quasi-industrial operations, among them nitrate cocktails vile enough to pollute wells 100 feet deep.
Yet given the option to improve everyone's lot (we all live downstream from someone) by summarily supporting the buffer idea, many legislators elected instead to wallow lockstep into infamy with their codependent constituents.
In the end, Dayton got some of the buffers he wanted, before doubling down on clean water in the most recent session when he included in his bonding bill $220 million in water-quality improvement projects; $53 million for water protection and $167 million to help cities update treatment systems.
Among the proposed funds was about $12 million for Duluth, which would have leveraged $47 million in federal funds already committed to help that city clean up the St. Louis River estuary.
These and other, similar efforts are especially important, Dayton stressed, in light of the lead-contamination water crisis that surfaced in the past year in Flint, Mich., and its potential effects on schoolchildren.
The breadth of Minnesotans' support for clean water was evident in February when Dayton hosted a Clean Water Summit attended by a standing-room-only crowd of more than 800. He also designated seven days in April as "Clean Water Action Week." That both were received so overwhelmingly positively by run-of-the-mill Minnesotans confirmed what has long been obvious: The vast majority of people in this state value highly their shared natural resources, not least water, and want them sustained indefinitely.
Now DFLer Dayton wants to call legislators back to St.Paul in special session, in part to pass his bonding proposal. Republicans — who want a smaller bonding measure — are balking. These are some of the same Republicans, most in the House, who couldn't quite figure out a way to pass (for a second year) Dayton's anti-poaching proposal, or even something as simple as the resoundingly supported Department of Natural Resources northern pike management plan.
The disconnect on natural resource issues between many of the state's legislators, including some DFLers, and the public at large is, and has long been, obvious.
Obvious as well is that many "public servants" who trudge to St. Paul each winter to huddle in hearing rooms and on the floors of the House and Senate are less interested in the common good, in this case clean water, than they are the benefits they can accrue by hook, crook, cloak or dagger to their own special interests.
You, dear reader, are not without responsibility. Allowing these shenanigans to continue is akin to co-conspiracy. All legislators are up for election in November, and one idea is to throw the bums out.
More positively, and more immediately, here's another option: Call your representatives today and tell them you, like all Minnesotans, love, and depend on, water.