Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Cities and Others Highlight Agriculture Impacts on Water Quality

by Craig Johnson, League of Minnesota Cities

On May 29, the League of Minnesota Cities joined conservation groups and farm and business representatives in calling upon the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) to hold farm operators accountable for cleaning up their share of run-off pollution flowing into the Mississippi and Minnesota rivers.

Standing in front of the MPCA offices in downtown St. Paul, the group dumped gallons of run-off sediment onto tarps to demonstrate the disproportionate 1 to 13 ratio of run-off pollution coming from urban landscapes compared to agricultural run-off that ultimately pollutes Lake Pepin and other downstream rivers and lakes.

Members of the League, Friends of the Mississippi River, Minnesota Environmental Partnership, Minnesota Cities Stormwater Coalition (MCSC), and Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy stood with a Red Wing businessman and Northfield area farmer to ask for the MPCA board to hold farm operators accountable for reducing field run-off pollution. The event occurred on the last day for public comment on the MPCA plans for cleaning up of the South Metro Mississippi and Minnesota rivers.

“Minnesotans value clean water,” said Steve Morse of Minnesota Environmental Partnership, citing a 2012 statewide poll showing that 84 percent of Minnesotans are concerned about pollution of the Mississippi River.

Cities near the rivers are required to devise systems and build infrastructure to effectively reduce pollution from wastewater and stormwater, said Dan Ness, mayor of the City of Alexandria and president of the League of Minnesota Cities. “Under the proposed MPCA clean-up plans, Minnesota city property taxpayers will be required to pay for more than $1 billion in initiatives to reduce pollution headed for our rivers while people with businesses and homes outside cities can choose whether they want to do more.”
“The MPCA goals for cleaning up our rivers are based on years of research and sound science,” added Whitney Clark of the Friends of the Mississippi River. “However, we all need to do our part to clean up our state’s rivers. City taxpayers are paying for their share. Yet there is no requirement for Minnesota farm operators to take action—and voluntary ag pollution control practices haven’t moved the needle.”
“The cities’ efforts will address just over 1 percent of the sediments flowing into the rivers,” said Randy Neprash of the Minnesota Cities Stormwater Coalition. ”The difference in water quality will be almost undetectable. The ag side of the problem really needs to be addressed in order to end up with cleaner water.”

Mike McKay of the Lake Pepin Legacy Alliance and general manager of St. James Hotel in Red Wing, stressed that pollution in Minnesota’s rivers threatens local businesses, tourism, and the recreation economy. “No one wants to play in or around dirty water, and downstream hospitality and recreational businesses shouldn’t have to suffer because the MPCA won’t hold agriculture accountable for their share of the pollution,” McKay said.
Northfield area farmer Dave Legvold, who practices soil and water conservation methods on his land, said, “It’s time for agriculture to step up and take responsibility. But voluntary programs aren’t enough. Unless you make ag pollution reduction mandatory, we won’t make progress. Right now farmers who adopt conservation practices are put at a competitive disadvantage. We need to level the playing field. The MPCA should seize this opportunity to require ag operators to reduce farm runoff pollution.”

In addition to the event at MPCA headquarters, representatives for the cities, conservation groups, and affected businesses submitted written comments urging the MPCA to use its existing authority to require farm operators to reduce pollution and regularly report pollution reductions. The League and MCSC filed joint comments and also requested that the reports go before an administrative law judge through a contested case hearing process to resolve factual deficiencies and contradictions.