RACHEL BEGLIN COLUMN: This drought is a wake-up call for all of us

It would be hard not to notice that all of Minnesota is considered abnormally dry this June. The land of 10,000 lakes is experiencing an unforeseen drought and it seems like Minnesota isn’t quite sure what to do about it.

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It would be hard not to notice that all of Minnesota is considered abnormally dry this June. The land of 10,000 lakes is experiencing an unforeseen drought and it seems like Minnesota isn’t quite sure what to do about it.

Much like the tundra-tough Minnesotans make fun of lower states who close roads after only two inches of snow, I -- who grew up in the parched southwest -- am finding myself as amused as I am concerned about Minnesota’s drought.

Don’t get me wrong, this drought is nothing to laugh about. Most likely caused by changes in the Earth’s temperature, many would attribute the lack of rain to human emissions.

Basically, we drive cars and run factories, which increases the carbon in the atmosphere and traps heat, which raises the temperature, which drastically changes rainfall all over the world. Farmers will be the first to tell you how drought can impact crop yields. This could result in less income for local farmers and pricier food for consumers in the near future. To add to the concern, fire danger has increased, and some burning has become prohibited to reduce the risk of forest and wildfires.

After watching the West burn in record-breaking numbers last year, the last thing we want to see is smoke over Lake Superior.


That said, I have been a little flabbergasted by peoples' reactions to the drought; it seems like something many have never had to think about before. When you drive down county roads here, you pass lake after lake after lake. Every kid seems to know the hollow call of the loon and the familiar weight of a fishing pole, but few have been sat down and taught how to take care of the water.

Water, in short, has been taken for granted.

Growing up in Arizona, I remember school assemblies where performers in water-droplet costumes put on skits to remind us to turn off the sink while brushing our teeth. Since metro Phoenix gets its water from the diminishing Colorado River, there is a constant awareness around water as a limited resource.

Unfortunately, I’ve seen a great deal of water waste in Arizona, too. Swimming pools, putting greens and power-washed driveways abound. But at the same time, there was at least an understanding that we were a waterless state. As I got older, I found myself learning about our local water situation and even scolding my parents for having a grass lawn in the middle of the desert.

Today, some municipalities in Minnesota are starting to ban outdoor watering , just like they’ve done in the southwest. It always feels dystopian when the government steps in to regulate our water, no matter how necessary.

Minnesota is uniquely situated as a steward of some of the most valuable, potable fresh water in the world. The Great Lakes alone make up 20% of the world’s freshwater and states like Arizona, Nevada and others in the southwest have eyes on these resources.

Minnesota and other Great Lakes states have guarded the water sources, but even NASA’s chief water scientist predicts that a pipeline will be carrying Great Lakes water to drought-ridden California in the next 50 years. Meanwhile, we run crude oil pipelines through these most coveted resources. Enbridge's Line 5, for example, is a 65-year-old pipeline running under the Straits of Mackinac where Lake Michigan meets Lake Huron.

There may come a day when the rest of the country needs our water. We may or may not have a choice in that. But we do have a responsibility to our fellow patriots to protect what water we do have. Perhaps this drought is a good reminder to all of us.


Instead of panic-posting to Facebook groups about how to keep our yards lush despite this drought, let’s reevaluate. What is really going on here? Rain isn’t falling for mostly anthropocentric reasons, and if we increase our pull on the underground water table for watering lawns and gardens and washing cars without rain to replenish it, we will hurt our local ecosystem in the long term.

To start small, we can all take action to conserve water. Teach your kids to turn off the sink. Water your garden at dawn or dusk instead of during the heat of midday. Only wash a full load of laundry. Eat more plant-based meals, which require less water input than meat. Use natural mulch on your gardens and trees. The internet offers hundreds of ways to conserve water in your home.

In reality, we will have to take bigger steps to protect our freshwater. We will have to encourage corporations to be more efficient with their water usage. We will have to have a cultural shift away from front lawns and start planting native perennial plants with long root systems to maintain soil and water integrity. We will have to plant biodiverse farms that are more drought-resistant.

But it can start today. Even if you just look at your next glass of water a little differently.

As many Indigenous activists have been saying: Mni Wiconi. Water is life.

Originally from Phoenix, Ariz., Rachel Beglin now resides in Bemidji. She is a former Peace Corps Volunteer, sustainability advocate, gardener, writer and coffee enthusiast.

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