By Emma Larson
It’s summer in Minnesota. It feels like we were just here, although a year has gone by and with so much going on, it has flown. Some days it feels like a lifetime since March 2020 and other times, it feels like yesterday.
Summer brings long sunny days, gardening, barbeques, lake days, fishing, biking, boating and lots of time for… vacations… or in the case of pandemic years, dreams of vacation to somewhere you love. What a privilege it is to live somewhere we can, (pre-covid) essentially vacation where we desire.
Where would you go if you had no limitations? Who would you spend it with? What would you do? It takes a global pandemic to not only show how small the world is by how quickly a virus can travel, but just how large it is when you are so far from home. I have spent a lot of time over the last year and a half dreaming of ‘home’. The little north east corner of the island of Ireland; Northern Ireland. It is 5,400 square miles, which fits into Minnesota about 15 times, (or Wisconsin 12 times, or Illinois 10 times for anyone interested). It is home to 1.9 million people: half of the population of the greater twin cities, seven-county metro area. Northern Ireland has a rich, complicated, and sometimes dark & conflicted history, but what a fabulous corner of God’s creation. It is home to the Giants Causeway, the North Antrim Coast, Harland and Wolff and the Titanic, George Best, Van Morrison, Snow Patrol, Bushmills Distillery… But there is one place that will probably not show up when searching for Northern Ireland, and it is one of my favorite places: Silent Valley. I loved this place before I knew it supplied drinking water for County Down, where I lived, and long before my career lead to me to water quality, protection, and supply in central Minnesota.
The Silent Valley Reservoir was constructed between 1923 and 1933 by over 1,000 men, nine of whom lost their lives during construction. In 1891 the Belfast Water Commission investigated options for supplying water the City of Belfast that was expanding exponentially because of the linen and ship building industries. They looked to the Mourne Mountain range, which is between 300 and 2,800 feet above sea level, with an average rainfall of 57 inches per year. Guaranteed Irish weather and two contributing rivers could provide more than enough water for the City and the surrounding area.
Phase one diverted two rivers through a hand-built conduit, providing 10 million imperial gallons per day (12 M US gallons). The ‘Water Protector’, built between 1904 and 1922, is a 22-mile, dry-stone wall, that stretches over 15 Mourne Mountain peaks, and surrounds the entire catchment area. The last phase of the project involved digging a tunnel under Slieve Binnian and was completed between 1947 and 1951. When all was said and done, the area could provide up to 30 MGD (imperial) for the north of Ireland. The Mourne Wall alone shows that nothing on earth is new. Those that went before us already knew the importance of creating source water protection areas.
“Plans to protect air and water, wilderness and wildlife are in fact plans to protect man”. Stewart Udall
Back to business, Minnesota Section continues to move forward into the unknowns of 2021 and 2022. Upcoming opportunities include Rochester Water Reclamation Plan Pilot Tour on September 1st, and Fall and Winter Collections Workshops. And of course, planning is well underway for the Conference on the Environment, in person, on November 9th at the Minneapolis Convention Center. This one-day conference is packed full of learning, networking and mentoring opportunities.
Remember to check the CSWEA webpage and MN links for all the upcoming opportunities.
– Emma –