Star Tribune, April 29
Great Lakes Compact must be protected, with no exceptions
One of the great achievements in water sustainability came in 2008, when eight U.S. governors came together to create the groundbreaking Great Lakes Compact, a pledge among their states and two Canadian provinces to protect the world's largest supply of surface freshwater — lakes Superior, Michigan, Huron, Erie and Ontario.
Minnesota played a special role, with then-Gov. Tim Pawlenty becoming the first to sign the landmark agreement, which allows a single "no" vote to block any exceptions to the compact.
Now the compact faces its first real test, from a small, mostly well-to-do Milwaukee suburb in neighboring Wisconsin. Waukesha, pop. 70,000, says it needs to take up to 10 million gallons a day from Lake Michigan, because it has no "reasonable alternatives" to its own radium-contaminated groundwater. But Waukesha has failed to make a convincing case, and Gov. Mark Dayton should exercise his veto when the governors meet in June for a final decision on the city's request.
Once Waukesha was renowned for its clean, refreshing springs, and even dubbed "Spring City." But like many communities, it used its natural resources with abandon. Pollution spoiled many of the springs and others dried up. The city drilled deeper into its aquifers, and for the last two decades it has been pulling up water contaminated with radium, a health hazard. It is not alone.
A 2006 study showed that more than 40 communities in eastern Wisconsin had radium levels three times the federal limit. Existing water treatments, it should be noted, can remove up to 90 percent of radium. Tellingly, all of those communities but Waukesha have complied with federal standards or expect to do so, according to the Healing our Waters-Great Lakes coalition, which includes more than 100 groups that monitor the Great Lakes.
Waukesha chose to fight the feds in court for years, and now it's under court order to comply with radium standards by June 2018. Time is running out, yet it continues to cling to an option most communities lack. The compact preserves Great Lakes water in part by limiting its use to those areas that fall within the natural boundaries of the Great Lakes Basin, stretching from northern Minnesota into Canada and east to New York state. Waukesha is wholly outside those boundaries, but Waukesha County straddles the line. The city is relying on that in its request to become the first exception to the compact. Environmental groups rightly worry about precedent, because an estimated 9 million people live in counties that straddle the basin. If Waukesha is made an exception, others are sure to follow.
To the city's credit, it has undertaken a number of conservation measures — although not as early as some. The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, after more than five years of study, recently concluded that the city has no "reasonable alternatives," that conservation would not do enough, that further water treatment would be too costly, and that drilling elsewhere could damage inland streams and wetlands. But other communities have had to undertake costly mitigation measures and strict conservation in order to produce safe drinking water.
Minnesota has its own water quality concerns. As rigorous as some think the state's environmental standards, studies show that half of southern Minnesota's lakes and streams are unsafe for fishing and swimming. Nearly two-thirds of test wells in the central part of the state have excessive nitrate levels. Restoring those waters will involve cost and hardship.
The water crisis in Flint, Michigan, is only the beginning of an increased awareness of how fragile a resource clean water is. The compact is the primary safeguard for 20 percent of the world's surface freshwater, and the pressure to tap that source will only grow in coming years. The Great Lakes governors should vote to protect that compact.
The Free Press of Mankato, May 2
Safer driving needed on roads
Fancy sports cars racing through the Twin Cities caught the state's attention last week.
No mishaps were reported as the dozen drivers maneuvered through the metro area at speeds reaching more than 110 mph, snapping up the attention of those who yearn to be behind the wheel of such an elite machine built for speed.
But just one inattentive driving moment or another driver inconveniently becoming an obstacle in the path of one of the racers could have changed the awe to horror. Troopers who far too often see the effects of drivers coming across the unexpected didn't take the sports car parade lightly when they ticketed them. One trooper told some of those drivers they were endangering themselves as well as others.
The foolhardiness of such high-speed cruising is made more apparent when recently shared statistics point to how crashes are as deadly as ever in Minnesota. In the southern part of the state the number of fatalities is climbing. Fatalities at intersections in the region were between eight and 16 per year for four years until jumping to 25 last year. Fatalities due to lane departures hit a high of 27 three years ago, dropped to 16 in 2014 and then rose to 22 last year.
In the past five years, Blue Earth County has had the most fatalities in the south-central region at 32 and the most serious injuries at 60. Males age 20-29 are more likely than other groups to be hurt or killed, and alcohol and speed are frequently cited as factors.
The South Central Toward Zero Deaths chapter, which released the data during a conference Tuesday, continues its job of trying to educate drivers about the consequences of their action. Establishing safe driving habits is a lifelong pursuit with new distractions constantly introduced.
Last year in Minnesota 74 died and 174 received serious injuries in crashes caused by distracted driving.
Although texting and driving infractions are sometimes difficult to prove if a text wasn't actually sent by the driver, law enforcement has plenty of anecdotal evidence of drivers not paying enough attention to the road. They are seeing more rear-end crashes as those texting are caught off guard by the ebb and flow of traffic.
During a one-week distracted driving crackdown in April, at least one local driver was stopped twice for texting. Statewide 972 citations — up from 909 last year — were given to drivers for texting while driving, including 26 from the Blue Earth County Sheriff's Office and nine from Mankato police.
Maybe you also text drive and were lucky enough to escape a citation. Unfortunately, that doesn't mean you'll escape causing a crash or being hit by someone else who does. Unless all drivers take distracted driving, drunken driving and speeding seriously, the crash numbers aren't going to drop anytime soon.
St. Cloud Times, May 2
Signs point to no mining near BWCA
The signs just keep coming — and they are providing a crystal clear message to Minnesotans and the entire United States: The 1.1-million-acre Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness deserves permanent protection from heavy-metal mining and its all-too-common pollution problems.
The latest sign came April 19 when U.S. Department of Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, speaking to the National Geographic Society in Washington, D.C., called out the Boundary Waters as one of three specific public lands nationwide that need to be re-examined through the eyes of modern science as to whether development makes sense. Jewell's speech focused on what America needs to do in the next century to conserve its public lands.
In the case of the Boundary Waters, that development involves the desire of Twin Metals Minnesota to mine for heavy metals just a few miles from the Boundary Waters and well within its watershed. That means if such a mining operation would pollute any water with sulfides, and that water would fail to be contained, it would flow into the Boundary Waters, neighboring Voyageurs National Park and north into Canada's Quetico Provincial Park.
You don't need to look very hard to find similar sulfide mining operations nationwide that have failed to meet "no pollution" promises, resulting in horrific environmental damage and costing millions of taxpayer dollars.
That industry track record is likely part of why Jewell made her comments, and it's certainly behind Gov. Mark Dayton in early March formally declaring his strong opposition to sulfide mining near the Boundary Waters.
Dayton's statement came with a mandate to the state Department of Natural Resources "not to authorize or enter into any new access or lease agreements for mining operations" in an area near Ely that Twin Metals had been drilling for testing until 2013, when mining leases issued a half-century ago lapsed.
Shortly after Dayton's statement, the federal Bureau of Land Management, in yet another sign of protecting the Boundary Waters, determined those leases cannot be automatically renewed. Rather, the BLM has the power "to grant or deny the pending renewal application."
Jewell's comments indicate those leases should be reviewed in the context of 50 years of advancements in science plus the need to protect public lands and ecosystems from unrelenting development pressures. Not to mention decades of pollution problems created nationwide by these kinds of mines.
The signs are obvious — and growing: Permanently protect the Boundary Waters from the dangers of heavy-metal mining.