There are bad provisions in Omnibus Environment bill that allow a polluter to shift the cost of pollution to a neighbor. And other provisions where one person actually takes a neighbors water. Here are the biggest six:
1. The bill says that the waste water from some sewage treatment plants going into a lake or river—even ones used for drinking water—doesn’t have to be up to current standards.
Normally waste water treatment systems—municipal & industrial—must upgrade if water standards get more protective. But some get a 16 year free pass in this bill. Advocates say there isn’t enough money to protect ours waters. But those of us who drink the water are willing to help pay the bill. There’re 350 waste water systems in the upper Mississippi, the drinking water source for a million Minnesotans. It could be much cheaper to upgrade the waste water treatment systems than redo drinking water systems since upgrading waste water systems for new standards is less expensive. The big expense people are talking about not up grading to meet standards but rebuilding old systems that are falling part.
2. Our water laws are based on fair share. This bill prohibits DNR from requiring any tests on the amount of water available in an aquifer or adding any conditions when the water levels of the aquifer are down when someone wants to transfer a water appropriation permit to someone else— that means that this bill gives one person rights to water even though the next door neighbor could have less. Getting rid of fair share is a very bad idea.
3. There is a White Bear Lake Stop the World I want to get off provision says that DNR cannot enforce the court order that protects White Bear Lake until July, 2019 even if the Lake drops precipitously. Why? Apparently some folks don’t want to face the fact that the groundwater under White Bear Lake is limited and there need to be some restrictions on use.
One of the court’s findings was that it is undisputed that the use of the groundwater in the White Bear Lake area is unsustainable
4. This bill prohibits the PCA from making rules about about demolition debris landfills. Without new rules the pollution from landfills can pollute a neighbors drinking water source.
5. This bill says no permit is needed for an activity that conveys or connects waters of the state. The example given in committee was that the polluted Devil’s lake in ND could be drained into surface water in Minnesota without a permit. Not smart.
6. There was 3M settlement language in the bill that was agreeable to everyone. But in Ways and Means an amendment said priority for spending must be given to two activities. The change in priorities is so major that they no longer resemble those in the Agreement and Order made between the state and 3M. So the bill appears to reject the agreement and put the money in jeopardy. Why?
We can do better. Minnesotan expect better.
It is unusual to be appropriating $26m of Clean Water Legacy dollars in the second year of the biennium. After all last year we appropriated $211,000,000 from the Clean Water Fund for fiscal years 2018 and 2019.
While the large second year appropriation is unusual, the process for allocating the money at least in the beginning was very usual. The agencies divvied up the money—called the Governor’s recommendation. Using the Governor’s recommendations as a base, the Clean Water Council then made its recommendations. Legislators are told we must follow the Clean Water Council’s recommendations.
Several weeks ago, Rep. Torkelson came up with his plan for spending the $25m and that is the plan in the bill before you.
So I expect you are assuming that I am going to say something like, we should go back to the Clean Water Council’s plan.
I am not.
Legislators are responsible for appropriating the money and should be held accountable for the outcomes from appropriating the money.
As of today, we legislators, generally following the recommendations of the state agencies and Clean Water Council, have appropriated roughly a billion dollars of the Clean Water Money over the last 10 years. That’s billion with a B.
And we have failed—abysmally failed—to deliver what Minnesotan’s wanted when they passed the Legacy amendment. Citizens wanted clean drinking water. But a billion dollars later, drinking water sources are getting more contaminated, not less.
When we wrote the proposed constitutional amendment, pollsters told us in no uncertain terms that of the things that we were proposing, clean drinking water was the most important and would be the reason Minnesotans would vote for the amendment.
So the question to Minnesotans — the one Minnesotans saw on their ballots— started by saying, In order to protect drinking water….
Basically drinking water comes to Minnesotans in one of three ways—from private wells, from municipal wells and from surface water, mainly the Mississippi. We have failed Minnesotans on all three counts.
The Minnesota Department of Agriculture has been testing private wells but only in areas that are vulnerable to pollution and planted in row crops.
So far, the Department has found that 1,912 private wells are over the health risk limit for nitrogen and that where there is nitrogen in the water, there are pesticides.
The only wells tested are those where the owner volunteers. It is not hard to project how many wells would be over the health risk limit if all the wells in the chosen townships were tested. That number is 5,532. And it will be going up.
Just as an aside, almost all of these contaminated wells are in Republican districts. It is beyond my understanding why Republicans haven’t offered to help these well owners whose wells were contaminated though no fault of their own. After all we have a history of justice— of helping other Minnesotans when they are harmed through no fault of their own—floods and tornados come to mind.
But back to private well testing. The Department of Health used to offer well testing but they don’t anymore. They don’t even have a good way to let people know that wells should be tested once a year.
I know you are hearing about contaminated municipal wells. Think Mankato. Mankato is asking the legislature for help because its municipal wells are now contaminated with nitrogen.
The Department of Health has identified 407,000 acres of land around vulnerable municipal wells that should be protected. They have identified 9,900 acres that are protected. 9,900 protected out of 407,000 vulnerable acres that need to be protected.
And if that isn’t bad enough, the Department of Health has only finished plans for slightly more than half of the municipal wells. Plans, not implementation, just plans.
The Department of Health’s plan to protect the Mississippi, drinking water source for over a million Minnesotans is basically non existent. They don’t even test the river for drinking water pollutants so those running treatment systems don’t know what to check for in their finished water.
And if the Health Department did test, we still wouldn’t have very good information. They are missing some very obvious standards.
We made a clean drinking waters promise to Minnesotans. And this is where we are—a billion dollars later. A billion dollars.
In a front page Star Tribune article, High water opens sinkholes, shifts foundations in south Minneapolis, Eric Roper reports on the neighborhood meeting about the high water levels in south Minneapolis. Roper provides a good update for those following the issue.
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.
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.
The MN Department of Natural Resources has issued a draft permit for Polymet and is requesting comments.
Kathryn Hoffman of the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy wrote a commentary in response to a Star Tribune editorial praising the process. Hoffman outlines her concerns highlighting the risk of a dam collapse. Her outline defines the issues.
The loss of pollinators described in this Guardian story could be retold in Minnesota. Researchers said, “(t)he new data was gathered in nature reserves across Germany but has implications for all landscapes dominated by agriculture….” Much of Minnesota is clearly dominated by agriculture.
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.
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.