An integrative approach to protecting Minnesota’s drinking water
Clean water is essential for ensuring public health, creating recreation opportunities and sustaining economic development. To this day, however, the value of clean water remains largely invisible to many. Most households and communities are not actually aware of risks to water quality and often take for granted the benefits of safe and abundant clean water.
The Natural Capital Project, in partnership with the Minnesota Department of Health, is working to change this reality and find new ways to understand, communicate and value clean water. Through a combination of approaches that include mapping, modeling, stakeholder engagement and conversations with water experts around the state, our team seeks to elevate the value of clean water in Minnesota.
In support of this work and as a researcher with the Natural Capital Project, I developed a story map called The True Value of Water: Drinking Water Protection in Minnesota. This interactive website aims to build a deeper understanding of the complexity of drinking water issues in Minnesota, drawing on rich quantitative data sources and qualitative stories—spanning from state agency rankings of drinking water aquifer vulnerability to firsthand accounts as told by staff from the Minnesota Rural Water Association.
The interdisciplinary and collaborative approach we used here took into account both biophysical threats to drinking water quality and socioeconomic factors that have an impact on community capacity for drinking water protection. Through this integrative lens, we can start to highlight where water quality issues are most pressing, and in turn, direct state support to the communities that need it most.
Orli Handmaker is a researcher with the Institute on the Environment’s Natural Capital Project team and a graduate student in the Natural Resources Science and Management program at the University of Minnesota. Support for this work was provided by the Legislative Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources (LCCMR) and The McKnight Family Foundation.