5 years later: a promise of cleaner water, healthier
By Tom Landwehr
Department of Natural Resources
Five years ago this month, Minnesotans
went to the polls and took a bold action and approved a landmark conservation
initiative known as the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment.
eve of Thanksgiving, I’d like to reflect on this important constitutional
amendment. During the past five years, the amendment has been fulfilling its
promise of creating lasting investments in clean water, healthier habitat,
better parks and trails and a robust arts and cultural heritage. It is something
we can all be thankful for.
In approving the Legacy Amendment, Minnesota
voters imposed a three-eighths of 1 percent tax on themselves for 25 years until
2034. Just five years later, that tax has generated more than a billion dollars
for Legacy projects, of which the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has
been allocated about one-fifth of Legacy dollars – or roughly $215
The DNR has invested your Legacy Amendment dollars wisely to
protect, maintain, and enhance natural landscapes, healthy watersheds and the
public places that make it possible to experience them to the fullest. Legacy
funds are also providing opportunities like never before to “open doors” to
outdoor recreation, particularly for young people.
You can learn about
these investments on the DNR website at www.mndnr.gov/legacy,
but I’d like to highlight a few of them here:
The DNR oversees 689
wildlife management areas in the agency’s 32-county “southern” region of the
state. While these public lands comprise only 1.19 percent of the total land in
these counties, they represent some of the most ecologically diverse and
important lands in the region. The DNR is working hard to improve and expand on
these lands using Legacy dollars from the Outdoor Heritage Fund.
the last three years, three roving “habitat crews” have enhanced 23,000 acres of
grasslands through controlled burns, plantings and restoration — nearly
doubling the DNR’s capacity to make this habitat better. Additionally, Legacy
dollars have been used to enhance large blocks of grassland by removing woody
invasive species and seeding new prairie. In the southern part of the state
alone, 6,500 acres of grassland habitat have been enhanced and 820 acres of new
grassland have been seeded.
In our Parks and Trails Division, more
people than ever are having positive experiences in nature as a result of Legacy
funding for expanded programming, such as the “I Can Camp” and “I Can Climb”
events, which teach skills to newcomers to the outdoors. Participation in these
and other interpretive programs totaled 285,620 in 2012, a 37 percent increase
since 2008, the year before Legacy funding became available to the Parks and
In another example of a long-term investment, the DNR
used Legacy money from the Parks and Trails Fund to update and enhance the River
Inn, a state building at Jay Cooke State Park that is listed on the National
Register and hadn’t been significantly remodeled since the 1970s. Originally
constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps between 1939 and 1942, the
structure was built with local rock and white pine trees. Among other things,
the building has been updated with new ADA-accessible restrooms with hot water,
energy-efficient lighting and power-assisted exterior doors and new interpretive
Minnesota’s forests and your access to them have been bolstered
with Legacy funds. Legacy dollars were used to protect 190,000 acres of working
forest land in Itasca, Aitkin, St. Louis, Cass, Beltrami, Koochiching and
Clearwater counties called the Upper Mississippi Forest Legacy Project. They
were also used to protect another 20,000 acres through several smaller projects.
By using Legacy funds to secure easements and acquisitions, existing public
forests are connected to create several thousand square miles of contiguous,
protected habitat for wolves, black bear, white-tailed deer, ruffed grouse,
woodcock and countless numbers of other animals and plants. This investment
keeps the lands open forever for outdoor recreation, including hunting, fishing,
hiking and snowmobiling.
The DNR is also making investments in clean
water using the Legacy funding from the Clean Water Fund. During the next 10
years, restoration and protection strategies will be identified and implemented
for 81 major watersheds through state and local partnerships. Along the Buffalo
River, one of 10 major watersheds in the Red River Basin, the DNR helped find
the most effective places to use Legacy money for managing water quality issues
and flooding. Closer to the Twin Cities, the DNR is using Legacy money to
develop a computer model that can be used to track water flow through the
70-square mile area of the Shakopee Creek headwaters watershed, which will help
local implementers reduce the flow of pollutants that threaten the lakes,
streams and wetlands in the region.
The agency is also using Legacy funds
to map groundwater resources and monitor groundwater levels to ensure long-term
sustainable groundwater use. Legacy funds are being used to create “county
geologic atlases,” collections of maps and other information that describe an
area’s aquifers, including where and how water moves through them underground.
The atlases, which identify pollution-sensitive areas, are critical information
for communities as they plot their future water supplies.
These are just
a small number of the important accomplishments that have been made with Legacy
funds in just a few years. This is just the beginning of the lasting Legacy
investments that we will be able to cherish, celebrate and be thankful for in
the years to come.