Twin Cities WRS Seminar

Not an Exact Science: The money, people, and politics of water management


Dr. Carrie Jennings
Freshwater Society

March 2, 2018


Minnesota has a lot to owe to the continental ice sheet that left a legacy of nutrient-rich sediment that has supported diverse ecosystems, dependent mainly on available water. However, we have been busily altering the patterns of plant growth and water flow to improve yields. This has indirectly and directly affected the water cycle. It should therefore not be surprising that we are seeing the negative impacts of these changes in our waterways.

After spending more than two decades mapping the surficial geology of Minnesota and processes affecting it, I began collaborating with scientists at the St. Croix Watershed Research Station and National Center for Earth Surface Dynamics to document the impacts of altered hydrology. While it is fun to present a talk about the geologic history of a region with an engaged audience familiar with the land, it is a different experience to discuss management practices that impact a shared natural resource. I have a growing appreciation for the fiscal and social barriers that get in the way when change is needed to improve water quality but those changes don’t make economic sense to someone’s bottom line.

The state is in a somewhat enviable position of having approximately $120M/yr to spend on projects to improve water quality. However, there are still questions on how to prioritize spending. We don’t have enough money to buy our way to clean water. So what is possible? How should money be distributed to ensure there is some long-lived impact after the money runs out (2034 is the sunset date for the Clean Water Fund.) It really all comes down to people and the choices they make.