3 Water Solutions Vying for $15K in MN Idea Open

Voting is now open online and at the Minnesota State Fair for the Pentair-sponsored Minnesota Idea Open, which will award $15,000 to help implement an idea for addressing the state's water issues.

Three innovative ideas to raise awareness of and address Minnesota's water issues are competing for a $15,000 prize-and Minnesotans are invited to help select the winner.

The Minnesota Idea Open-which poses “challenges” and asks Minnesotans to submit solutions to important problems-grants the winning idea a $15,000 prize to help bring that solution to fruition.

The most recent challenge began accepting ideas in June for how to address Minnesota's water issues, like waste, contamination, and pollution.

Minneapolis-based Pentair, Inc., sponsored the challenge, and its corporate foundation funded the prize money, a booth at the Minnesota State Fair, and other promotional components, Susan Carter, manager of the Pentair Foundation, told Twin Cities Business on Wednesday.

Carter, who served as a judge in the competition, said that about 115 water-saving ideas were pitched, and the pool was recently narrowed to three. Online voting opened Tuesday, and Minnesotans can also vote in person at a booth at the great Minnesota get-together.

Here's a breakdown of the finalists' ideas:

  • “Are You Thirsty?”: Loren Niemi from In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theatre in Minneapolis submitted a plan to use theater to provide environmental education. The plan involves a two-person puppet-and-mask theater program, which the group already developed, that focuses on issues like how much of the Earth's water is available for drinking, and helping “understand ourselves as part of the natural water cycle.” The prize money would allow the group to bring the 40-minute performances to 50 additional organizations, including churches, schools, and communities throughout Greater Minnesota.
  • “Minnesota FarmWise”: This idea involves identifying and recruiting experienced and retired farmers who have demonstrated successful conservation techniques to lead and teach other farmers how to implement environmentally friendly practices. Volunteer farmers would share with fellow farmers the challenges facing the Mississippi River and offer tangible ways to help protect the state's waters. The plan was submitted by Peggy Knapp, program director for the Anoka-based nonprofit Freshwater Society, in partnership with the Mississippi National River Recreation Area.
  • Canoe and Kayak Library: Todd Foster of Friends of the Sauk River, a nonprofit organization in St. Cloud, wants to use the prize money to develop a “library” system to allow Minnesotans to borrow canoes and kayaks to use on the state's lakes and rivers. Foster's organization already launched a rental program through which people can check out canoes, life jackets, car-top carriers, a trailer, and paddles, but the Idea Open prize money would allow the group to expand the library to include kayaks. The thought is that if people-especially youth-spend more time on the water, they'll be more apt to want to protect the state's water resources. The money would also fund educational paddle tours through which students would learn about water issues.

Click here to learn more about the finalists and to cast a vote online.

Carter said that the Idea Open's “broad swath of experts”-which included Eric Jolly, president of the Science Museum of Minnesota, and WCCO news reporter Jason DeRusha-led to a diverse group of finalists.

According to Carter, the sponsorship provided exposure for the Pentair brand, and “we always want to align ourselves with good people and credible ideas” and enter a dialogue about how to address the state's water issues. “The only way to do that is to engage people.”

Todd Gleason, Pentair's vice president of strategy and marketing, told Twin Cities Business in June that if the winning idea is related to Pentair's areas of expertise, the company would consider providing services to help implement the solution.

Because the winner hasn't yet been selected, Pentair can't yet determine whether it will pitch in, Carter said. But several of the proposals that weren't selected as finalists “caught the attention of the Pentair Foundation” and could result in future partnerships.

The Idea Open was launched last year by the Minnesota Community Foundation and is funded by the Knight Foundation.