Hundreds of people rally to tell lawmakers: We're worried about our water

40 percent of the lakes, rivers, groundwater and streams in Minnesota are said to be impaired or polluted.

About 40 percent of the lakes, rivers, groundwater and streams in Minnesota are considered impaired or polluted, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency says.

And people who are concerned about how to improve that figure, and protect the water that's still clean, gathered at the Capitol in St. Paul Wednesday as part of Water Action Day.

Hundreds of people filled the rotunda to show support for clean water efforts, and hear from speakers including Gov. Mark Dayton, Honor the Earth's Winona LaDuke, and polar explorer/Minnesota-born badass Ann Bancroft.

What's the concern?

There is worry from these clean water supporters that some bills currently being considered by lawmakers would impact water quality, in a bad way, the Minnesota Environmental Partnership said in an email news release.

For example, the Clean Water Fund – money that gets set aside via the (voter-approved) Legacy Fund that's specifically to be spent on ways to "protect, enhance, and restore" Minnesota's waters. (Whether the fund has made an impact on the waters yet, it's too early to say, a recent audit found.)

As The Associated Press reports, Republican lawmakers are pushing to have money taken out of that Clean Water Fund, and are also looking at fiddling with water quality standards. Republicans have also accused Dayton of pushing his environmental agenda through state agencies, rather than achieving things legislatively, the AP notes.

So the people who showed up to the Capitol Wednesday were there to ask lawmakers to "fully fund environmental protection, stop environmental rollbacks, safeguard the Clean Water Fund, and respect sound science and public participation," Minnesota Environmental Partnership says.

The governor has a stake, too

Water quality has been a big focus for Dayton, a Democrat. His big legislative push a buffer law, which requires land to be between public waters and things like farm fields. It was tweaked in 2016 to exempt private ditches and waters, after criticisms.

Last August he said there would be a Year of Water Action in Minnesota, and urged people to rethink water usage, make informed consumer choices, and talk to others about clean water protection and preservation.

Since that time, he's brought Minnesota into a federal program that will provide $350 million in funding for clean water, and also proposed a plan that he says would make Minnesota's waters 25 percent cleaner by 2025. That new plan would need to be approved by state lawmakers – and right now, Republicans have a majority in the state House and Senate.

So how will this play out?

Long story short, Dayton has put a lot of political effort into water protections. It's been a centerpiece of his second term in many ways. And remember, the governor has to sign a bill the House and Senate both pass in order for it to become law.

If a bill gets to Dayton that includes serious cuts to water protection programs – programs Dayton himself has likely touted and fought for – he could look to veto them.

And while GOP lawmakers have a majority in the House and Senate, they don't have the two-thirds required to override a Dayton veto. Meaning the only way the veto gets nullified is if some Democrats vote against the governor, and with Republicans.

The legislative session ends on May 22, so bills have to get passed by then.

Next Up