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Water as valuable as oil?

Published (1/30/2009)
By Sonja Hegman
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Once water is as valuable as Mideast oil, people will start to see it as a commodity.

This is according to Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota. “We don’t have a futuristic view about our water,” he told a joint meeting of the House Cultural and Outdoor Resources and Environment and Natural Resources finance divisions Jan. 28. “The value has to change or we’ll be here 20 years from now in more dire circumstances than we are now.”

Minnesotans get 90 percent of their drinking water from the state’s groundwater supply, which is significantly greater than the rest of the country, said Gene Merriam, president of the Freshwater Society.

He said groundwater is running short in some areas of the state. Also, the water has become polluted from things like nitrogen compounds used in farm fertilizers.

“Whatever we use as chemicals in our society is finding its way into our water,” Osterholm said.

Rep. Rick Hansen (DFL-South St. Paul) said today’s issues are the same ones he learned about as a graduate student 20 years ago.

“Was it a question of funding about why we still have the same problems, or was it a question of the consensus being wrong in the procedures that we chose of going with best management practices and education and not achieving the results or the outcomes that were desired? If we do provide money in these committees will we look for another 20 years and have the slides be the same?”

“I don’t think there was enough money to adequately address the questions,” Merriam said. “It’s important that the money used today gets spent in a way that will make a difference 25 years from now, and having a way to track that.”

Solutions to current issues include intensifying the monitoring and protection of aquifers and educating the public about environmental impacts.

“We’ve got to change what we’re doing,” Merriam said. “It’s so easy to focus on cleaning up the problems, but it’s so much easier and cheaper to keep them from happening in the first place.”

A study by the Freshwater Society Guardianship Council also found that:

• groundwater buried thousands of years ago by glaciers is high quality, but newer water being recharged in shallow aquifers contains chemicals from modern land use;

• perfluorochemicals are being found in lakes and wells in the Twin Cities metropolitan area and in treated wastewater throughout the state;

• 40 percent of septic systems do not comply with state standards and threaten ground and surface water;

• sand plains of central Minnesota and some areas near Hastings are particularly vulnerable to contamination; and

• atrazine is being found in wells throughout the state. Concentrations are decreasing but detection frequency is increasing. This is due, in part, to increased ethanol production.

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