Why should we care about the protection of our drinking water sources?
Access to clean and safe drinking water is essential to the health of Minnesotans, our state’s economy, and the overall wellbeing of our communities. Many significant threats to safe drinking water come from how people use the land—which means there is something we can do about it if we work together!
Tackling the human causes of contamination through land uses can help protect water quality and quantity for future generations. This is especially important as treating contamination can cost as much as twenty times the cost of protection.
As a state agency, the Minnesota Department of Health is tasked with ensuring that all Minnesotans have access to clean and safe drinking water, including the planning necessary to protect our drinking water sources, for protection of both surface water systems and ground water systems. On their own, they are not equipped to do this job without the cooperation of other sectors and the communities they serve.
Who is at risk? What is the risk?
People who are served by private wells are especially at risk of being exposed to contaminated drinking water. First, public water supplies are regulated by drinking water standards, while private wells are typically tested infrequently and for a more limited scope of potential contaminants. Additionally, private wells are often shallower than public wells, making them vulnerable to contamination even before a contamination concern is picked up by a public well nearby . We should lead with this sentiment to answer the question – why should we care?
Finding ways to protect public and private water supplies is important for economic development and the vitality of Minnesota’s communities.
More information on the threats and what is being done about them can be found on the Minnesota Department of Health website.
What can be done to protect drinking water sources through a state-wide collaborative?
Because the Department of Health can’t do this alone, we worked with them to explore the needs and the opportunities associated with promoting land uses and land use decisions that protect drinking water supplies. The following themes emerged through discussions across economically, hydrologically, and politically diverse communities:
- There are many projects and policy and planning efforts that impact the protection of drinking water across the state, and a number of new initiatives are already in development. The collaborative will leverage and learn from these activities—and facilitate the sharing of knowledge between communities that are trying similar efforts.
- Local and state government officials responsible for providing drinking water have limited and varied training and resources available for supporting engagement of community members and surrounding residents. The collaborative will expand capacity, particularly for those who have been marginalized from government decision making, such as farmers, rural communities, immigrant communities, Tribal Nations and indigenous communities, and small businesses.
- Distrust between community members and local officials persists, as does an undercurrent in many communities of feeling dismissed and discounted on a state-wide level. The collaborative will support local community partnership- and trust-building efforts, focusing on those who have been marginalized, in order to build a stronger civic fabric and greater collective capacity for securing safe drinking water for all
Drinking water protection is an inherently local concern. With support at the state-level, local efforts can grow, thrive, and learn from each other, increasing the impact of projects, policy, and partnership efforts around the protection of drinking water across the state.