DEERWOOD -- The first of six projects to improve Minnesota waters began here Thursday.
The North Central Minnesota Lakes Pilot Project will impact lakes, rivers and wetlands in Crow Wing, Aitkin, Cass, Hubbard and Itasca counties. It's part of Gov. Tim Pawlenty's Clean Water Initiative, established last year to ensure that state waters remain pristine, supplies of drinking water are maintained and impaired waters are restored.
"This is a watershed project," said Sheryl Corrigan, MPCA commissioner, during a kickoff meeting Thursday morning at Ruttger's Bay Lake Lodge. "It will bring an identity to the north-central region. It will take the focus from individual lakes and cabins to the region as a whole. There's a huge need for restoration and protection."
Five similar projects are slated for the Twin Cities metropolitan area, Red River Valley and Root River watershed in southern Minnesota.
The north-central region was chosen to kick off the projects due to its importance to the culture of Minnesota, DNR Commissioner Gene Merriam said. With 2,500 lakes -- 21 percent of the state total -- in the five-county region and with a population growth of 24 percent over the past 10 years, there's a need for a cultural shift, he said.
"Too often we've brought our urban culture with us," Merriam said. "We've got to change that. The price of continuing what we're doing is too great."
Citizen education, government collaboration and workshops for contractors, real estate agents and developers are all part of the plan.
"A bay that's especially fragile could be classified differently from the rest of the lake," Schultz said. "We also must address second tier, or back lot, development, especially how these people access the water. More people using a lake means sewer and water needs increase and there's more runoff from pavement."
New shoreline ordinances might be 2-1/2 years in the making, Schultz said, and there will be ample opportunity for public input.
Indeed, every spokesperson at the kickoff meeting called for government agencies and private citizens at every level to get involved in the pilot project.
"We're interested in new ideas, new thoughts, new energy," said John Steward, coordinator of the DNR's Leech Lake watershed project. "We want to hear from people who are passionate and interested in doing something good for the lakes and rivers in this part of the state."
Attendees at the meeting included the governor's new Clean Water Cabinet, which includes employees of the DNR, MPCA, Board of Water and Soil Resources, Department of Health, Department of Agriculture and Metropolitan Council.
VINCE MEYER can be reached at email@example.com or 855-5862.
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