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Guest Commentary: Failure is not an option with water quality

Gov. Mark Dayton

My father, Bruce Dayton, taught me that good stewardship is one of our most important responsibilities: to take what we have been given or have acquired and leave it in better condition for those who inherit it from us.

As Minnesotans who have inherited this incredible state, we have no greater shared responsibility than our stewardship to protect and improve the priceless natural resources that we will pass on to our children and grandchildren. That wise stewardship is everyone's challenge and everyone's opportunity.

Tragically, in recent years, the quality of our water has deteriorated in many parts of our state. Too many lakes, rivers, streams and ditches have become contaminated with potentially dangerous chemicals. In some communities, the surface and underground waters our citizens use for drinking, washing, work and recreation are no longer safe.

There are a couple of contradictory trends here. The first is that as a state we are doing more and more to protect and improve our water quality. We are spending more public and private resources to achieve this important goal. The second, however, is that our water has become more polluted and less safe in many areas.

That contradiction tells me two things. One, we're not doing enough to correct the problems. And two, we're doing too much to cause the problems.

They are simple conclusions. But in our complex environment, there are often no simple solutions. And there is often disagreement about how best to achieve solutions.

Ignoring our water quality problems is not a solution. Doing nothing will only make matters worse by allowing problems to turn into crises. That is what happened in Flint, Mich. We cannot let it happen here.

Which is why I have declared this week "Water Action Week" in Minnesota. I challenge everyone to take actions that will lead to a new era of clean water in our state.

Learn about water quality: Visit the Water Action Week webpage at mn.gov/governor to learn more about the water quality challenges in your community. Test the water in your well. Ask your local officials what they are doing to protect or improve the quality of the water upon which you and your family rely.

Teach your children about clean water and let them teach you: Talk with your children or grandchildren about the importance of water in our lives. A great place to start is h2oforlifeschools.org, where you can find simple lesson plans, watch short videos, and find new ways to improve water quality.

Set a water conservation goal: Fixing leaky pipes in your home, turning off the water when brushing your teeth, or using less fertilizer on your lawn are just some of the small changes that will add up to big improvements in our state's water quality.

Call your legislators: This session, I have a proposed a $220 million down payment on some of the clean-water upgrades urgently needed to provide safe drinking water in communities throughout Minnesota. I encourage you to review my proposal at mn.gov/governor. If you agree it deserves top priority, please call your legislators and encourage them to support these important investments to improve our state's aging water infrastructure. You can find out how to contact your legislator by using the "Who Represents Me?" tool at gis.leg.mn/iMaps/districts.

We can preserve the best of what we have in Minnesota by behaving responsibly. By being wise stewards, we can bequeath clean water to future generations. My water quality initiatives are not intended to take anything away from anyone. I'm not trying to take away anyone's property or livelihood or happiness.

But I do want to preserve all of that for everyone else. It is my responsibility as the chief executive of this state, and it's your responsibility as a citizen of this state. It will require all of us working together to achieve our goal.

Failure is not an option.

Mark Dayton of St. Paul is the governor of Minnesota. He wrote this for Forum Communications newspapers, including the News-Chronicle.

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