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Our opinion: Drought highlights value of our water

The Free Press, Mankato

Minnesota has always been blessed with an abundance of water, above ground and below.

But the drought shows how quickly something usually taken for granted can become a concern.

While the immediate Mankato area has been blessed with a few timely rains that have helped crops and lawns, the signs of this year’s precipitation shortage — 11 inches below normal — is visible. Rivers are extremely low and showing sandbars not seen in many years. Boaters at area lakes are finding public boat ramps more difficult or impossible to use because of falling lake levels.

Around much of the state, including the Twin Cities, restrictions on watering lawns are in effect or soon will be as concerns about falling well and aquifer levels increase.

The conditions show just how fast our life-giving water can be jeopardized. While not yet an emergency here, the searing droughts and growing water shortages in the western United States portend serious problems far into the future.

Already some water-thirsty states have proposed piping water from Minnesota’s aquifers or from the Great Lakes. Fortunately, those efforts have so far been thwarted as Minnesotans and neighboring states have refused to make our waters a commodity.

And while southern Minnesota continues to have a good underground water supply, much of central and northern Minnesota has seen too much demand, such as for irrigating potato fields.

Above ground, our lakes and rivers aren’t only falling but many are impaired. The MPCA lists 56% of lakes and rivers as impaired.

Whether the current drought pattern is contributed to or caused by climate change isn’t something anyone can answer. We’ve had severe droughts in Minnesota long ago and will again.

But what is certain is that climate change will make for more erratic weather, and demands on our water resources will continue to grow — be it from more droughts, local demand or from other states seeking new water sources.

Next time you turn on the garden hose or visit a lake or river, it’s worth considering the value of our rich resources.

Water is a public good that needs to be protected from pollutants and overuse.

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