Dayton hears voters, changes clean water approach

A couple of years ago, Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton infuriated many of his rural constituents when he called for 50-foot buffer zones around all public waters in the state.

I said then, and I repeat now, that Dayton’s goal of cleaning up the water supply wasn’t a mistake. The mistake was

Tom West, West Words
Tom West, West Words

in his leadership approach.

Dayton essentially blindsided everyone, including most of his staff, with his proposal. He had made no effort to gain buy-in from farm groups.

Not surprisingly, they fought back, watering down the buffer plan. The result at the ballot box was more profound.

While Dayton wasn’t even on the ballot in 2016, his party was all but wiped out in farm country.

Hillary Clinton carried only nine of Minnesota’s 87 counties. Of those nine, two, Hennepin and Ramsey, are urban; two, Dakota and Washington, are suburban; and four are in the northeastern corner of the state, where logging and mining, not crop and livestock production, dominate. Only Olmsted County could be considered to be in farm country, and Olmsted is dominated not by farmers, but by the medical community in Rochester.

In the Legislature, in the approximately 30 state Senate districts and 60 state House districts in Greater Minnesota, with few exceptions, the DFL won only in districts representing college towns (Mankato, Moorhead, Northfield, St. Peter, Winona) and in the aforementioned counties in northeastern Minnesota plus Rochester.

The exceptions? In Mower County, long a DFL union stronghold, Sen. Dan Sparks and Rep. Jeanne Poppe, incumbents from Austin, survived. In District 4B, which includes Ada and Detroit Lakes plus that portion of Clay County almost entirely outside Moorhead, incumbent Rep. Paul Marquart, DFL-Dilworth, also won.

Of the 90 legislators in the outstate districts numbered 1 through 30, only 23 are now DFLers.

Well, no one can accuse Dayton of being an old dog unable to learn new tricks. A couple of weeks ago, his approach to water quality took a 180 degree turn.

Instead of pushing solutions from the top down, Dayton called for bottom up answers to clean up this Land of 10,000 Lakes.

Dayton set a new goal, challenging the state to cut water pollution by 25 percent by 2025. However, he didn’t outline a program with more regulations.

That doesn’t mean that new regulations are off the table, but it gives rural interests an opportunity to create solutions that are more workable.

Given that crop prices are low and expected to remain that way for a couple of years, it is asking a lot of farmers to take crop land out of production right now.

However, the opportunity is still there to design more flexible solutions and to help share the costs of reducing run-off.

Speaking at the Minnesota Environmental Quality Board’s annual conference in St. Paul, the governor described his message as a grass-roots “call to action.” Dayton said, “Clean water is your right. It’s also your responsibility — and mine too.”

In management classes, it is sometimes said that the key to leadership is to convince those following that the answer is their own idea. Demanding results for someone else’s project leads to resistance, either passive or active.

The people who live in rural Minnesota have to drink the water out here. But we also understand property rights. Don’t expect a lot of cooperation if you tell someone else what to do with their own land. It’s better to create a cooperative spirit, helping one another achieve the goal of cleaning up our water.

Most farmers, if asked politely, will try to be part of the solution.

As it is, the technology regarding applying fertilizer and herbicides is advancing rapidly. Broadcast applications will soon be replaced by plant specific injections, creating less chemical run-off and saving farmers dollars.

With that in mind, I was reading the other day about the mess that was left behind by the 500,000 people who attended the 1969 Woodstock Music Festival on a farm in upstate New York. It has taken 48 years for the clean up to be completed.

Then the news arrived that, like Woodstock’s hippies, the 3,000 Dakota Access Pipeline protesters in North Dakota left behind a huge mess.

The last 46 were arrested Feb. 22. Loaders, dump trucks, excavators and skid-steers had to be brought in to remove tons of debris from the flood plain.

The irony that the protesters, 95 percent of whom were from out of state, went there to protect water quality is undeniable. The cause may have been noble, but the hypocrisy makes it look like they were more interested in protesting per se than in protecting the environment.

None of us can claim to be pro-environment if we don’t walk the walk.

The solution to our environmental issues will be found by understanding each other’s point of view and working together, helping one another do the right thing.

It won’t come from self-righteously telling those with whom we disagree, “I’m good, and you’re bad.”

If the governor can figure that out, the rest of us should be able to.


                Tom West is the editor and general manager of the Record. Reach him at (320) 616-1932 or by email at [email protected]