Time for the million Minnesotans who drink Mississippi River water to weigh in…


Sally Jo Sorensen, an insightful blogger with deep rural roots,  provides needed background for an issue that will turn out to be one of the most contentious in this state: solving the problem of farm chemicals polluting Minnesota’s drinking water. THIS IS NEW. Until now most of the discussion about water pollution has been confined to lakes, rivers, and streams so the impact, while important, has not been seen as pressing.

In her blog, Sorensen doesn’t pull any punches when she comments on the response of rural legislators to an update to part of the Department of Agriculture’s proposed nitrogen fertilizer rule. They said, “no one listens to us.” Sorenson notes that they always talk about how much they want clean water and calls out their “Orwellian talking points.”

Agricultural chemical interests want people to believe that no urban or suburban legislator has a right to weigh in on the drinking water issue.

But the Mississippi River is the drinking water source for a million Minnesotans. The Crow River, contaminated by agricultural chemicals, enters the Mississippi just 20 miles north of the drinking water intakes for Minneapolis and St. Paul, drinking water suppliers for many suburbs as well as their own residents. And there is no useful source water protection plan for the Mississippi.

Further no state agency routinely tests river water specifically for drinking water contamination even where the river is the source water for drinking water. Source water needs to be tested in order to understand what must be checked in finished water and to prevent contamination. Other states protect their cities drinking water sources when the sources are surface water so there are models Minnesota can adopt.

Those of us who drink Mississippi River water must weigh in.

Inquiring minds are asking “where was our Department of Agriculture?”

Minnesota Public Radio reports that Minnesota’s own General Mills announced that they will be creating South Dakota’s largest organic crop farm to supply all the wheat it needs for its popular macaroni and cheese.
It has been clear for years that General Mills would need new sources for organic ingredients to meet consumer demands. Inquiring minds are asking why didn’t Minnesota’s Department of Agriculture make sure that this farm with all the anticipated local benefits landed in Minnesota.

Lake Hiawatha and golf course issues are symptoms of a larger problem

Last Friday, October 6, elected officials from the area representing Lake Hiawatha and the golf course held a hearing at the Capitol about water issues and plans to change the recreational opportunities that would be available. We heard testimony from the Park Board, the City, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, the Minnehaha Creek Watershed District, and others.

Some of the citizen testifiers brought a different perspective. They told us about the high water levels at Lake Nokomis and constraints on the ability to release water from the Lake. They told us about high ground water levels and wet basements in an area south of Lake Hiawatha. Citizen reports about water percolating up from basement floors was new; it had not happened before. And they are increasing.

While much focus has been on Lake Hiawatha and the golf course, it became clear at the hearing that the issues there are actually symptoms of a larger problem. This area of south Minneapolis is receiving more water than can be managed. All of us need to understand the larger problem before we can designs solutions.

Senator Torres Ray promised to arrange additional hearings at the Capitol.

The citizen comments from James Flescher, Teresa Engstrom and Jere Blanchfield were in writing and you can link them here.

“Fertilizer rules pit clean water vs. profits”

Josephine Marcotty’s “Fertilizer rules pit clean water vs. profits” is a welcome kick off of a public discussion about the state of Minnesota’s drinking water.

Most of the discussion about nitrogen pollution has been confined to the impact on lakes, rivers and streams so the impact, while important, has not been seen as pressing. The impact of nitrogen pollution on drinking water is decidedly different and much more pressing. That is especially true since the Department of Agriculture’s own data shows that where there is nitrogen in groundwater, there are pesticides and as nitrogen increases pesticides increase.

The Department of Agriculture offers voluntary nitrogen testing in townships that are considered vulnerable to pollution and are generally planted in row crops. Of the tests done so far, 1,912 have nitrogen above the health risk standard. Since there is a good estimate of the total number of wells in each township one can estimate that if all the private wells in these townships were tested, over 5,532 would be contaminated. The Department does not offer any help to those whose wells are contaminated even when the well owner didn’t cause the pollution.

Mankato is in a similar situation. It gets its drinking water from wells. Nitrate levels in the Blue Earth and Minnesota Rivers have increased to the point that some of Mankato’s wells are now contaminated. Mankato mixes water from these wells with water from the Mt. Simon, the region’s most critical aquifer that provides water for Minnesotans well beyond Mankato. There is concern that the Mt. Simon is not sufficiently recharging so Mankato has limited its use of this source. At this point Mankato has to consider an expensive nitrate-filtering plant so they have brought their request for help to the Governor and Legislature. Marcotty points out that Mankato is not the only city that has faced this problem.

The nitrogen rule discussed in Marcotty’s article received 800 comments. The Department of Agriculture says it will not post them because it does not have the capability. The Department of Commerce received 2,867 comments on the Enbridge Line 3 DEIS. The comment period closed July 10 and they were posted on July 20.

Here are the comments from:
26 legislators
Friends of the Mississippi
Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy
Fresh Water Society

“White Bear Lake ruling could ripple across the state”

The title of Josephine Marcotty’s Star Tribune article says it all. She describes the state wide significance of Judge Marrinan’s ruling that DNR is responsible for the drop in White Bear Lake because it permitted too much pumping of the groundwater under the lake.
DNR has now appealed the ruling.
The ruling by the Court of Appeals will almost surely have huge implications for generations to come.

Sally Jo Sorenson at Bluestem prairie reports on a privilege given to one special interest

Dayton administration used public dollars to organize farmers before public water meetings

All Minnesotans are equal, but some are more equal than others when it comes to water quality discussions.

In Dayton’s water-quality meeting draws 200, veteran Mankato Free Press reporter Mark Fischenich reports:

Mapleton corn and soybean farmer Steve Trio spoke of his decision to take individual responsibility for how his agricultural production impacted the Cobb River. Working with his son Aaron, Trio has ensured there’s protective cover between his farmland and the tributary streams leading to the river, works to be diligent in soil testing to minimize chemical use, and even added a containment system around his fuel tanks long before it was required.

“The thing is, we all gotta dig into this thing, farmers included,” Trio said.

Along with being asked to speak to the large group — “I haven’t spoke since my FFA days in front of a crowd. I’m just a farmer,” Trio told them — he was invited to be the voice of area farmers in a pre-meeting sit-down with Dayton.

Isn’t that special?

Bluestem noted Minnesota Department of Agriculture to host five town halls listening sessions on ag issues that the rest of us chickens weren’t invited to this meeting–and several others–only farmers and representatives from agribusiness interests:

In conjunction with Governor Mark Dayton’s 25 by ‘25 water town hall meetings around the state, the Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) will be hosting a series of agriculture-focused listening sessions.

“We will give a brief overview of a few MDA programs and initiatives, including the draft Nitrogen Fertilizer Rule, and low cost loan programs offered by the Rural Finance Authority followed by an open conversation period,” said MDA Commissioner Dave Frederickson. “It’s important for us to hear from farmers about their current challenges and successes, and I encourage them, along with members of the state’s ag organizations, to attend.”

In short: the governor’s office is using public dollars to organize farmers in advance of the public meetings. We do have to wonder one industry and occuption–represented by member organizations like Farm Bureau, Farmers Union, and all the commodity groups–needs a chance to have the state government organize a pre-meeting before any of the 25 x 25 water meetings.

Why not pre-meetings (again, at government expense) to organize conservation and sportsmen’s groups? Environmental organizations?

Are we to conclude that farmers and their organizations are so incompetence that they need special assistance to attend public meetings? Or are their special interests just better at feeding at the public trough?

Perhaps every special interest group in the state–regardless of the issue–should stand up and demand a pre-meeting with the Dayton administration to organize and select a leader for the dog and pony show.

We can’t wait.

Photo: A farmer (left), who was at a pre-meeting sponsored by the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, gets to talk to Governor Dayton at a reserved table. Since Dayton was at the pre-meeting, according to the Mankato Free Press, we have to wonder what more they can possibly have to discuss other than a great photo op. Photo by Mark Fischenich at the Mankato Free Press.

Thanks to Sally Jo Sorenson. I went to the Forum in Mankato. One of the things that the Free Press didn’t mention in the article is that the farmer who spoke to the crowd also said Minnesota is “on the right track” and “Mother Nature will heal it up for us”. Really?

Will you be part of 25 by 25?

As part of Governor Dayton’s 25 by 25 Water Quality Goal to improve Minnesota’s water quality 25 percent by 2025, a series of Water Quality Town Hall meetings will be held across the state beginning at the end of July. The ten town halls will offer Minnesotans an opportunity to discuss the water quality challenges facing their communities and our state with key members of Governor Dayton’s Cabinet.

One of the ten town halls will be held in Minneapolis:

Minneapolis – Water Quality Town Hall
Tuesday, September 26, 2017 – 6:30-8:30 p.m.
Registration opens at 6:00 p.m.
Minneapolis Urban League, 2100 Plymouth Avenue North

In addition, the Governor is inviting citizens to host their own community water meetings from July through August. You may want to take this opportunity to weigh in on water quality issues in your community with neighbors, colleagues, family, and friends. If you would like some help, I would be glad to provide additional information or attend your meeting – please contact Jamie Swezey at 651-296-2491 or jamie.swezey@house.mn

One of my concerns is the lack of state protections for the Mississippi, the drinking water source for Minneapolis residents. Minneapolis’s drinking water treatment plant is amazing but, to the extent it has to deal with additional new contaminants, treatment will be more expensive and our water rates are already among the highest. Other states protect their cities’ drinking water sources so there are models Minnesota can look to.

Stay tuned for a Community Water Meeting that Rep. Davnie and I will be hosting in our district – details forthcoming.

Click here for full details about the Water Quality Town Halls, Community Water Meetings, and 25 by 25 Water Quality