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Great Lakes Article:

Pawlenty pledges to improve water quality
By Dennis Lien
St. Paul Pioneer Press

ST. CLOUD, Minn. - Saying Minnesota lakes and rivers are increasingly stressed from overdevelopment, runoff and drinking water demands, Gov. Tim Pawlenty on Tuesday pledged to come to their rescue.

"As a governor who does not believe we can afford to let the state slip further down the slope of silt, sewage and sludge, I'm here today to talk about a renewed statewide commitment to clean, quality water in the state of Minnesota,'' Pawlenty told several hundred people at a conference to improve the quality of the state's lakes and rivers.

Minnesota, he said, will coordinate resources and refocus water-protection efforts, work with local conservation groups, launch pilot projects on specific watersheds, seek more money for agricultural buffers, and cut pollution into the Mississippi River.

It was at least the second time Pawlenty has staked out a major water-quality position. Last spring, he told legislators to back off trying to weaken state wetlands laws.

In his speech, Pawlenty was short on many specifics, such as cost. But he outlined several initiatives, and, with Pollution Control Agency Commissioner Sheryl Corrigan, emphasized the time had come for action, not study.

He announced the creation of a "clean water cabinet,'' made up of the heads of the departments of Natural Resources, Agriculture and Health; the Pollution Control Agency and the Board of Water and Soil Resources to work on common solutions. A Pawlenty aide, Bob Schroeder, will chair it.

He said his administration will identify watersheds in four areas of the state - the Red River valley, the Twin Cities, the Brainerd lakes area, and southeastern Minnesota - for cleanups.

Rivers such as the Cannon, Zumbro and Root in southeastern Minnesota, for example, should be swimmable within a decade, he said. In 1992, former Gov. Arne Carlson offered a similar goal for the Minnesota River.

"How do we achieve all of these things?'' Pawlenty asked. "By bringing together local partners, aligning and maximizing federal and state resources, and working together to get the job done.''

His administration, he said, is working on a proposal to retire more acres of marginal agricultural land to reduce runoff into rivers and lakes. About 100,000 acres already have been protected in the Minnesota River basin under the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program.

In addition to pledging to cut untreated sewage and fecal coliform runoff into the Mississippi River, Pawlenty said the DNR will increase access to the river by improving beaches and buying more land for new access points.

"It would be a crime if we didn't push hard to make this special river the water resource we want it to be for Minnesota,'' he said.

Those efforts, however, shouldn't come at the expense of land productivity, Pawlenty emphasized.

Noting that water-quality issues were largely ignored in the recent legislative session, Rep. Jean Wagenius, DFL-Minneapolis, said she was heartened by Pawlenty's speech.

"We haven't heard the specifics, but if we are now going to concentrate on it, that's good news,'' Wagenius said.

Ron Kroese, executive director of the Minnesota Environmental Partnership, a coalition of environmental groups that has advocated various water-protection measures the past two legislative sessions, also was encouraged.

"I would call it a clear, clarifying vision of what needs to be done to protect our waters,'' Kroese said.


Gov. Tim Pawlenty pledged to:

Form a "cabinet" to solve common water-quality problems.

Identify watersheds in four areas for coordinated cleanups.

Seek federal approval and state bonding money to protect erosion-prone crop land.

Cut sewage-related pollution into the Mississippi River.

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