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St. Cloud, Minn. — (AP) - Gov. Tim Pawlenty unveiled a plan Tuesday that aides called a major environmental initiative to fight silt, sewage and sludge in Minnesota water. "Minnesota's waters are our greatest natural resource, but they are stressed by overdevelopment, flooding, storm water runoff and increasing demand for drinking water," Pawlenty said.
The plan is only the latest outdoors initiative by Pawlenty, who appears determined to forge an image as a conservative friendly to the environment.
He has to make it real, and not just words.
Pawlenty's remarks seemed more prepared and in-depth than most policy speeches he's given. Rhetorical flourishes touched on Mark Twain's romantic childhood visions of the Mississippi and the reemergence of the Hexagenia mayfly, a species thriving in the river after a 30-year absence due to pollution.
The governor announced the formation of what he called a "clean water cabinet," made up of commissioners from the departments of Agriculture, Health, Natural Resources and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. He said they will focus on developing a handful of projects in targeted regions of the state to improve water quality.
For example, Pawlenty said, in southeastern Minnesota, the initiative aims to make rivers such as the Cannon, Zumbro and Whitewater suitable for swimming within 10 years.
He also said he would focus efforts on improving the length of the Mississippi River, directing the DNR to purchase and protect more riverfront land and clean up beaches.
Pawlenty's speech kicked off a conference about cleaning up Minnesota waters.
Greg Langmo, a poultry farmer from near Litchfield, liked what he heard.
Langmo said he's convinced that simply getting diverse groups such as lake associations and farmers together and working toward the same clean water goals will help.
"We can make some unbelievable difference, there's no doubt about it," he said.
In an interview following the address, Pawlenty shrank from describing himself as an environmentalist. Instead, he calls himself a conservationist. He said he's interested in improving the environment, but groups of environmentalists might not agree with all of his policies.
Many in those groups gave Pawlenty grudging praise for brokering a nuclear waste deal at the Legislature. Pawlenty demanded a greater focus on alternative energy from lawmakers in a bill that extended the storage limits for the Prairie Island Nuclear Plant.
Praise for the new Pawlenty initiative was cautious from the environmental left.
Marie Zellar, state director of Clean Water Action Alliance, said she was pleased with Pawlenty's speech, but wants to see results.
"He has to make it real, and not just words," she said.
Rep. Jean Wagenius, DFL-Minneapolis, voiced concern about Pawlenty's emphasis on pilot projects.
"Does that mean some winners and a whole bunch of losers?" she asked.
Wagenius said she listened to Pawlenty's speech with some skepticism. She said the governor failed to provide leadership on some clean water issues in the legislative session, including a failed effort to limit phosphorus use.
Wagenius also said she wants to see a greater focus on monitoring the quality of all Minnesota's lakes and rivers.