By Ted J. Rulseh
December 28, 2011
There are various reasons why it’s tough to engage the public on water infrastructure issues. One, the pipes are out of sight and out of mind. Two, the concept is a little abstract – people don’t worry about piping until a break causes them a problem. Three, talk tends to focus on infrastructure nationally, making it hard for people to relate at the hometown level.
A gallant group in Minnesota has taken on the challenge of making the infrastructure crisis more immediate. They’ve created a 56-minute TV documentary, “Liquid Assets Minnesota,” that shows from the perspective of local officials why it’s essential to take care of water piping and other buried assets.
The program is a state-specific spinoff from the 2009 documentary, “Liquid Assets: The Story of Our Water Infrastructure,” produced by Penn State Public Television and supported by major water, wastewater and other industry associations. The Minnesota program is important because it can provide a blueprint for groups in other states who need to deliver their own infrastructure messages.
“Liquid Assets Minnesota,” two years in the making, is built around unscripted, on-camera conversations with 33 people, from mayors and city council members, to front-line workers, to representatives of agencies like the Minnesota Department of Health and the Twin Cities’ Metropolitan Council. The interviews include representatives from 12 Minnesota cities – large and small, new and old, rural and metropolitan. The comments are frank, clear, and from the heart. The visuals are compelling.
The program does not beat around the bush when it comes to the essential issue: paying for infrastructure upkeep through water and sewer rates that are truly adequate. In one sequence, Duluth mayor Don Ness states, “From a political standpoint, every politician wants to keep rates low, and they want to tell their constituents that they can have all these services at the lowest possible cost. Unfortunately, what that has led to is political decision-making that has under-invested in the capital of our water and sewer systems. For decades and decades, politicians have gotten away with lower rates, which is popular with the voters, but the integrity of the systems has declined to the point that we’re now seeing a tremendous increase in cost to fix a broken system.”
Many hands were at work to make this program. They worked under the umbrella of BluePrint Minnesota (blueprintmn.com), a gathering of public and private infrastructure experts formed for the express purpose of creating the documentary. The planners’ aim from the outset was to document successes and failures, focusing on real solutions and real people. To help keep the cost affordable, Twin Cities Public TV trained people in the water professions to film interviews using handheld video cameras. Public TV shot the interviews with key experts.
This program is worthwhile viewing even for members of “the choir,” as it shows how to make a compelling case in any state for infrastructure renewal. Take the time and have a look. You can view it at: