Those who attended Bruce Dayton’s recent funeral didn’t just mourn the merchandising magnate’s death: They also celebrated the philanthropy and community engagement that helped build a vibrant Minnesota for generations to come.
It became clear a week ago that this legendary businessman’s son, current Gov. Mark Dayton, is doing some deep thinking about his own legacy and how he might leave Minnesota a better place. On Nov. 21, Dayton generated headlines around the state when two routine speeches unexpectedly became the platform for the welcome announcement that he will convene a historic statewide water-quality summit in February.
Though specific details are lacking, Dayton’s move merits broad support from Minnesotans. The state is blessed with lakes and rivers that augment not only its natural beauty, but also the quality of life for those who live here.
Protecting and preserving these waters for future generations is an unquestionably worthy goal. It’s also an urgent one. Shrunken White Bear Lake vividly illustrates the dangers of groundwater depletion. Lake Pepin, the state’s beautiful river-lake in the southeast, is choking on sediment washed downstream. A state survey released in April showed that half of the waterways in the state’s heavily farmed south are too polluted for swimming and fishing.
Water quality is a farsighted choice for the governor to embrace as a signature issue. The summit will build on Dayton’s previous good work — his energetic advocacy for buffer strips to filter farm-field runoff. That Dayton chose to engage again rather than be content with a modicum of progress reflects his serious intent and the amount of work to be done.
It will take much more than a brief summit to get a handle on the troubles plaguing the state’s waters. But the summit is a pragmatic way to bring stakeholders together, laying the foundation for necessary cooperation. Dayton’s choice of venues for the announcement — at conventions for the Minnesota Farmers Union and the Minnesota Farm Bureau — was both a challenge and an invitation for the agricultural industry to fully participate in the summit and any action that comes afterward. A 2013 state report linked more than 70 percent of nitrogen pollution to cropland practices such as fertilizer application. And although that’s not the only source, reducing this pollution will require farmers’ help and systemic changes that make their stewardship a more rewarding business practice.
It’s likely that the model for the water-quality summit is the state’s Pheasant Summit, which was held in late 2014 and yielded recommendations for improving the gamebird’s habitat. One of them was the buffer initiative. The water-quality summit should yield the same result: recommendations for voluntary and regulatory steps to be taken. Those involved in outdoor sports and conservation should get behind the summit and its proposals with the same enthusiasm. Their backing provided crucial support for buffers.
One concern about the summit is that water quality is such a broad, technically complex topic. It will be difficult to meaningfully cover so much in one event. Focusing on measures that would significantly move the needle on pollution reduction could make this worthy gathering even more beneficial for current and future Minnesotans.