Everyone in Minnesota relies on and expects clean water, but since 2001 safeguards for headwater streams and critical wetlands have been steadily eroded. These waters help recharge our aquifers; restrain floodwaters; and provide important fish, game and wildlife habitat. The ecosystem fed by these waters is an important driver of tourism, hunting and angling, and the economic benefits they provide.
The Obama administration's efforts to finalize its guidance and initiate rulemaking clarifying the waters protected by the Clean Water Act have been under consideration for some time. There are bills in both houses and other efforts in Congress to damage clean-water protections. Clarifying what we define as protected streams, wetlands and other waters is extremely important throughout the United States and particularly in Minnesota, where the amount of water resources are so great.
Nearly 2 million of Minnesota's anglers and 700,000 hunters together generate $3.6 billion in direct expenditures each year and support 55,000 Minnesota jobs. In addition, wildlife-watchers annually spend $51.3 billion, including trip-related expenses ($14.5 billion), equipment costs ($26.1 billion) and other costs ($10.8 billion). Altogether, they spent more than $137 billion in 2006 alone, breathing life into rural communities and supporting millions of jobs across the country, from local coffee shops, guide services and hotels to domestic manufacturing jobs in areas as varied as firearms and ammunition, boating and apparel.
As a member of Minnesota's Clean Water Council, I am well-informed on the broad efforts to protect Minnesota's ground and surface waters. It is a complex and difficult job that has become ever more difficult as our population and development grow. Whether we are talking about the aquifers that support farmers' irrigation or the waters in which wild rice grows and great northern pike feed, clean water is incredibly important and connected.
In order to effectively safeguard key components of our economy, our outdoor traditions and activities, and the health of some of our most important natural resources, it is essential to act now to begin restoring lost Clean Water Act protections.
I commend the Obama administration for taking the first positive steps last spring by proposing new guidance for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to follow in determining Clean Water Act jurisdiction. The draft guidance has garnered widespread support from hundreds of thousands of people, is science-based and respects court decisions.
The guidance has been proposed. Now it is important to finalize it and move forward on rulemaking. Successful rulemaking can provide increased clarity about the specific waters that are covered by the act. This clarity is important to counties and badly needed by landowners; developers; conservationists; and local, state and federal agencies. In a county where a majority of our land mass is covered by water and wetlands, it is incredibly important that the protection of our water resources is preserved for future generations and that we know what to do to protect it.
Frank Jewell is a resident of Duluth and a member of the St. Louis County Board of Commissioners. This article originally appeared in the Duluth News Tribune, owned by Forum Communications Co.