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Is collaboration a new “buzz word” or a trend in governmental operations? Collaboration in government has actually been widely used by cities and other units of government for many years. The recent economic downturn has brought the idea of collaborating with adjacent cities, townships, counties, school districts, watersheds, and others to the forefront as a way to remove redundancies, increase efficiencies, and reduce costs. As in the private employment market, government has had to contemplate how to perform day-to-day operations differently, due to reductions in workforce, work-sharing, reducing or eliminating services, collaborating with other units of government, or some combination of these factors.
Given current economic conditions, Minnesota cities may want to consider taking a regional approach to providing services to the public. Growth of the metropolitan area, as well as some outstate areas, is presumed to have some impact on the natural environment. For example, the recent low water level of White Bear Lake and other northeast area lakes has heightened awareness of the potential for regional impacts growth may have on our natural resources. Drought conditions, increased growth, and greater demand for potable water in the northeastern metropolitan area are factors that potentially contribute to the decline in lake levels.
Planning now for the future
What might this mean for city water supply systems in the metropolitan area? In 2005, the state enacted a law requiring the Metropolitan Council to carry out planning activities addressing the water supply needs of the metropolitan area. These activities include developing a technical information base for water supply, preparing a water supply master plan, providing guidance for local water supply systems and regional investments, and preparing recommendations addressing the governmental structure and necessary funding to improve water supply management in the metropolitan area. As growth continues in metro area cities, water supply management opportunities will likely need to be considered and implemented. These would be aimed at reducing regional/local demand, providing efficiencies in operations, combining regional systems, and including water recharge/reuse strategies, which can result in a reduction of impacts to natural features as well as costs for serving the public.
Collaborative efforts are a key strategy for cities to utilize to achieve these results. A group of northeast area cities is looking into opportunities to form a regional water supply, storage, and distribution system, as well as other systems, through a joint powers entity. A southwest coalition of cities, through a collaborative effort, has already established a water supply management plan that utilizes water pumped for mining purposes as a significant source for potable water. This water was previously pumped and discharged to the river system as part of the mining process, but through a public/private collaborative effort, a water supply management plan was created to utilize the pumped groundwater to meet public use, reducing the need for additional municipal well construction.