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Taylor: New leadership for new realities

Last week, a faulty pipeline released 1 million gallons of saltwater — a brine up to 30 times saltier than seawater — down a ravine heading towards Lake Sakakawea. There is an investigation going on as to whether the million gallons of saltwater reached the lake, threatening the drinking water intake for Mandaree.

A line in one story really struck me: “most of the salt water was pooled on the ground, soaked into the soil or held back by beaver dams.”

The solace for the community, local agriculture and for North Dakota is that the beavers had it under control.

Is this what we’ve come to in North Dakota? A dependence on large, furbearing rodents to protect our drinking water from pipeline spills? I’m thankful for the beavers, but I believe that our government, particularly our agriculture commissioner — who sits on the Industrial Commission responsible for these saltwater pipelines — should be leading the effort for common sense requirements to protect our farmland and drinking water. We elect people for this kind of work, which shouldn’t be left to chance or to rodents.

Three weeks before the Mandaree spill, I proposed a Landowner Bill of Rights, and one of the planks to protect landowners is a requirement for flow meters and pressure cutoff switches on saltwater lines that cross our farms and ranches. Such requirements would protect the land from sterilization that can last generations, and our waters from contamination.

I believe it is a fundamental role of our agriculture commissioner to look out for the agriculture, the industry and way of life that has sustained us through 125 years of statehood. And that means standing up against threats to our soil and water. We can have a prosperous, successful oil and gas industry in this state while taking care of our farmers and ranchers who require fertile soil and clean water. But it won’t happen without leadership.

I accepted a debate invitation for the North Dakota State Fair back in April from the Northwest Landowners Association, which represents some 400 landowners working to successfully coexist with oil and gas development. My opponent turned down repeated requests to participate.

Maybe I should ask the beavers down by Mandaree to sit on a panel with me to discuss landowner’s issues. Apparently, we’re the only ones willing to do the job.

Taylor is a former North Dakota state senator from Towner and the Democratic candidate for agriculture commissioner.