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COMMENTARY: Do we need a water czar?

By State Rep. Jeff Backer, R-Browns Valley, MN

Do we need a water czar? This question was posed several times to two groups of panelists during the governor's Water Summit. For some reason, there seems to be a giant push to implement this new buffer law in a very short amount of time. However, this is an impractical if not impossible goal. Why the sudden hurry? Why must we create a new position of a "water czar" to whip everyone in line by Nov. 1, 2018? When has a rush job ever been better than a well-thought-through, carefully-implanted plan? Is it just me or is it possible the rush is coincidental with the date Dayton leaves office in 2018?

I attended the water conference on Friday, Jan, 27. Gov. Dayton gave opening remarks, and said he had no patience for anyone who does not agree with him on water issues and who was not willing to support them by his appointed due dates. Dayton stated he had compromised enough by exempting private ditches (although there appears to be a plan to include them again in some way) and he would not compromise anymore concerning the buffer law. It was disappointing to hear these comments.

The constituents in my district have been trying to get permits from the DNR to lower the water level in Big Lake by three feet since 1997. This is a tiny, 12-square-mile project. Lowering the lake would alleviate spring and summer flooding by providing flood storage in this small lake and protect the town of Herman. This miniscule project has not even been granted a permit. "It takes time" to get it all done we are told by the DNR. I suppose it needs to be done "right." Please explain to me how it takes over 20 years for this project to be done "right," but we can buffer the whole state in two years so effectively that our goal for clean water will be achieved.

We are told that the DNR protected waters map is nearly completed, yet not all of the 4,000 complaints have been rectified. When any bill is challenged in court, it is not enforced until the final legal challenges are completed. So how will a water czar help when the maps aren't finished and we are still questioning whether the law is an unconstitutional taking of private land? Yet somehow the DNR is going to wade through all the complaints, have them rectified and still complete the map with enough time for farmers to plan their year's planting months ahead of time. ... Good luck with that one.

The DNR also says the map will never be finished because there will be constant tweaking in the future. It is very conceivable that a part of the map that is now correct will someday be found to be in error and some unfortunate landowner will find himself in non-compliance. So much for certainty and finality in the buffer bill. Yet, the very basis for the buffer bill is an unfinished map that will always be subject to tweaking. Procedures like this remind us of the infamous health care bill that, "we have to pass before we can read it." We all know how well that rush-and-hurry process turned out.

Here's a word picture to explain a better approach. Traffic congestion in the metro areas took decades to streamline into the interstate systems we now enjoy and take for granted. The traffic congestion was not solved in two years by a "traffic czar" or traffic law proclaiming "let there be no congestion." It took decades of patience, careful planning and concerted efforts by the citizens to solve the problem. In the same way, appointing a water czar, or hastily passing ill-crafted buffer laws proclaiming "let the water pollution be solved by 2018" is poorly conceived and will not accomplish constructive and lasting results.

It will take years of careful planning, patience, and cooperation with those involved in active farming to give the best results. There are many alternative practices that need to be explored and implemented. Together we will solve the problem. But a rushed and hasty edict from some unelected bureaucrats from on high only serve to muddy the waters and do little to give beneficial lasting results.

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