Thursday, June 1, 2017

Randy Ellingboe - Our World, Our Water

Randy Ellingboe has been manager of the Section of Drinking Water Protection at the Minnesota Department of Health since 2008, working with the people who operate public water supply systems to ensure that Minnesota's public drinking water meets all federal health standards. Randy has also worked for a number of other state agencies on water quality issues and in agronomy on hayland and pastureland research projects. He is currently the president of the Association of State Drinking Water Administrators and his agency was a state partner with the Minnesota Humanities Center’s Water/Ways exhibit and is a current partner in the We Are Water MN planning process..

Drinking water has been in national and local news a lot recently. Stories about lead, chemical spills, harmful algal blooms in lakes and rivers, and impacts from agriculture and industry on drinking water have captured our attention.

These news stories are alarming; contaminated waters pose threats to our health and the health of our environment, and safe drinking water is the foundation of community and business prosperity. At the same time, unless we are directly affected by one of those stories, we often take safe, plentiful drinking water for granted. It can be hard to know what we can do as private citizens to protect the drinking water that comes from our groundwater, lakes, rivers, and streams.

While valuable, statistics, facts, and theories are hard to grasp unless they are part of a larger context — part of a story. Often, it isn’t science that changes our views. Instead, change comes from the stories that touch our hearts and inspire emotion. Stories can help us connect the things we do every day in our jobs, homes, and activities to what we learn from science about our health and environment.

This year, Minnesotans had an exciting chance to share stories about water across the state as part of the Water/Ways exhibit. The exhibit, sponsored by the Minnesota Humanities Center in cooperation with the Smithsonian and many state and local partners, travelled to six communities across Minnesota. It was a chance for these communities to come together around the stories of their water(s), to share what their water(s) mean to them and how they protect them, and to think and talk about what we all must do to protect them into the future. It was a new way for state and local government agencies with interests in water, like us at the Minnesota Department of Health, to connect with citizens and communities.

The Water/Ways exhibit blended stories from Minnesotans about how they value water and what water means to them with stories from agencies that monitor our waters and work with the people who manage our lands, businesses, and utilities. The exchange of these stories about water is crucial to help us connect as private citizens, businesses, government, landowners, and utility managers. We all play critical roles in protecting the health of our water — and by doing so — ourselves. We can learn from each other’s stories, to help us better understand our world and our water.

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