The Public Policy Issue
Minnesota’s greatest water quality challenge, nonpoint source pollution, is not getting solved at the watershed scale, which is needed to impact the problem for the long-term. To date, roughly 40 percent of Minnesota waters have been found to be impaired (not meeting state water quality standards). The majority of those impairments come from nonpoint source pollution – diffuse pollution created by the diverse land uses taking place across Minnesota’s landscapes.
We Need a New Approach to Policymaking in Watershed Governance
Decisions that are made by citizen leaders inside our many diverse institutions, organizations, communities and government agencies have an impact on the common good. These are, because of their public effect, governing decisions. In light of this, we must transition from a traditional policymaking approach focused on institutional or individual self-interest to a civic policymaking approach focused on the interest of the common good. We do this by developing Civic Leaders who:
- Connect with their identity as citizens in a democracy,
- Develop their civic leadership capacity to govern according to civic principles and standards,
- Build a civic infrastructure through which this capacity can grow and that connects us across sectors and regions,
- Create civic policies that allow us to meet our own interests by advancing the interests of the common good.
Questions We Are Asking
- What is the role of citizenship in the broader picture of managing water quality?
- Where does this role need to be developed?
- How can existing institutions support this role?
Civic Governance Solution Strategy
We are testing a framework and approach, called Civic Governance (also called Civic Policymaking), as a strategy for transitioning our current approach to watershed governance to a civic approach. We are intentionally moving away from an expert-based, government-agency-driven system, toward one that is partnership-based and made up of citizens across our watersheds so that governing our waters is within the role and responsibility of all citizen leaders, from public and private sectors, throughout Minnesota. We have established three pilot projects to test this approach: two in the mostly rural St. Croix River Basin and one in the mostly urban Como Lake watershed.
Evidence to Date This Strategy Is Working
In the St. Croix River Basin pilot staff from local and federal government agencies housed in two counties – Kanabec and Mille Lacs, are working together across their agencies and in partnership with local landowners to test this new approach to shared watershed governance. To date, they have had success in reframing internal operating procedures that can be a barrier to citizen engagement and are testing partnership-based approaches for working with local landowners interested in improving water quality and land management practices.
Another rural St. Croix River Basin project has recently been initiated called the Interstate Civic Organizing Agency, made up of citizens from Minnesota and Wisconsin who represent state and county government agencies and lake associations. Working across state boundaries, this organization seeks to link citizenship and local leadership to water quality improvement efforts in the river basin. A special emphasis for this group is on creating the right kind of systems and processes within government organizations that can enable this to happen on a day-to-day and ongoing basis.
In the St. Paul Como Lake pilot, community residents are working in partnership with local government agency and local organization leaders to increase local leadership and local collaboration capacity to tackle the water quality impairment of Como Lake as a community. Key to this goal is transitioning from project-based organizing to citizenship-based organizing.
Recommendations We Are Advancing
- Water quality restoration and protection work must be linked to active citizenship and a higher purpose (i.e., all citizens in communities and institutions have a central role in and obligation in a democracy to solve the challenge of water pollution and working toward the common goal of clean water).
- In order to ensure there are effective and sustainable local efforts to control water pollution within watersheds across Minnesota, we must develop the civic capacity of local leaders willing to engage in all aspects of the policy making process (including strategic planning, civic engagement, and transparent, accountable decision-making).
- In order for active citizens and civic leaders to emerge and thrive within watersheds, all institutions collaborating toward the goal of clean water must develop the civic mindset that enables all citizens to have a meaningful governing role in the process. This requires a dedication of resources to sustaining citizen efforts across time and generations.
- Advance recommendations 1-3 as a Civic Policy Agenda.