A warning about an ecological Armageddon after the dramatic plunge in insects

October 20th, 2017

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.

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

October 10th, 2017

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”

October 10th, 2017

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”

October 2nd, 2017

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

August 18th, 2017

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

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?

July 28th, 2017

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

36 Legislators call out flaws in the draft Environmental Impact Statement for Enbridge Line 3

July 10th, 2017

36 Legislators formally commented on the draft EIS for Enbridge Line 3 and asked for a “vastly revised EIS.” Legislators identified and analyzed the deficiencies in four areas.

One. “The DEIS does not analyze the potential harm of a spill to the million plus Minnesotans who drink Mississippi River water” and fails to “address risk to warmwater streams.”

Two. The DEIS “fails to adequately address…key concerns of Indigenous communities.”

Three. The DEIS fails to directly address or incorporate Minnesota’s goals and policies regarding climate change.

Four. The DEIS does not comprehensively analyze a no-build alternative.

Read the comments here.line-3-comments-final.pdf

Going Backwards: Minnesota’s new environment laws.

June 28th, 2017

Republicans made numerous proposals to take rights from citizens and give them to polluters. Some proposals failed, but of the ones that are now law, two stand out.

Until the law changed, Minnesotans had the right to raise questions about a Department of Natural Resources permit to mine decision by asking for a contested case hearing. There are obvious issues at stake like potential water pollution, plans to remediate the site, and financial assurance to protect taxpayers from cleaning up any mess left when the mines close.

Now only adjacent property owners will have the right to a contested case hearing. All other Minnesotans are now excluded even ones who could be directly harmed–for example, water pollution affecting someone’s property that was not adjacent to the mine or Minnesota taxpayers paying the bill for clean up. Who would have guessed that Minnesota would return to colonial times when only property owners had rights.

The other new law says that cities that upgrade their waste water treatment systems to comply with new or modified effluent limits do not have to upgrade again for another 16 years even if new health based standards are adopted.

There are 203 wastewater treatment systems in the upper Mississippi basin, the drinking water source for over a million Minnesotans including those of us in Minneapolis.

In addition, the PCA’s new study of pharmaceuticals and other contaminants shows that the Crow River, which enters the Mississippi about 20 miles upstream from our drinking water intakes, is a hot spot for those contaminants. The Minnesota Department of Health’s testing of source water is very limited so there is no data to indicate concentrations of pharmaceuticals and other contaminants north of our drinking water intakes. One would hope that within the next 16 years PCA will want to require waste water systems to do a better job eliminating these contaminants.

It should go without saying that Minnesota law should not preclude wastewater treatment upgrades to meet health standards. It is simply unsafe and unfair to ask those who drink the water to ignore evolving drinking waster wastewater standards or clean up the contaminants that others create. Senators and House members who represent the communities that drink Mississippi River water wrote a letter to the Governor with that message but the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency decided to go along with the 16 year free pass that is now law.

Inquiring minds will be asking, just who is the Pollution Control Agency protecting?

Going backwards. Minnesota’s new energy laws.

June 25th, 2017

This Republican energy bill that has been signed by the Governor and is now law harkens back to 1986 when President Reagan gutted renewable energy research and removed solar panels from White House roof. It would be hard to be more backward.

The bill sabotages our new Minnesota solar energy industry and with it good paying solar energy jobs. This bill does more than that but I will start with solar.

The Republican energy bill gets rid of the Made in Minnesota program that launched the Minnesota solar industry and 495 solar industry jobs. The bill also gets rid of the Renewable Development Fund that was created in the mid 1990s as part of the Prairie Island settlement between Xcel, the State, and the Prairie Island community. The settlement was designed to promote renewable energy and that is exactly what it has done.

Rather than spending the RDF dollars on promoting renewable energy, this Republican bill puts dollars in a newly created fund with different priorities.

Earmarks eat up much of the money. One earmark says that if Xcel terminates its contract with the poultry litter plant in Benson, or buys it out, then $20,000,000 of the former RDF dollars will be given to the city of Benson for economic development. Legislators have been told that Benson would use this money to help build a cheese factory. Similarly another earmark of $34,000,000 can be used for a gas plant in northern Minnesota.

Minnesotans spend billions (with a b) of dollars per year on electricity imported from other states and Canada. At stake in this Republican energy bill are dollars and jobs that could be created in Minnesota, or dollars that we will continue to send to other states, and jobs that we continue to support in other states.To the extent Minnesotans can create electric energy from our abundant sun and wind, more dollars stay in Minnesota and circulate in Minnesota. That would be good for Minnesota’s economy, but not good for the fossil fuel industry that is dependent on Minnesota dollars leaving Minnesota.

It is well known that the Koch brothers and their fossil fuel industry friends continue to undermine renewable energy. Roof top solar, in particular, terrifies them. Their worry, of course, is that solar will become as cheap or cheaper than wind energy which is already out competing their fossil fuel assets. If wind and solar out compete fossil fuels, then fossil fuel assets become less valuable so it is not surprising that attacks on solar are happening in many states besides ours

The Koch brothers and their friends were probably very disappointed when Governor Dayton vetoed HF 234. It allowed coops to settle complaints from customers and took away a customer’s ability to complain to the Public Utilities Commission. It did provide for mediation, but a coop has the final say.

Lo and behold, the bill reappeared in the final omnibus bill that was sent to the Governor. It is now law.

At issue for the coops were complaints to the PUC that the new fees that they were imposing for rooftop solar and small wind were too high and unreasonable. The PUC opened an investigation specifically asking the question: do the fees meet the requirements set in law or are the fees designed to capture lost revenues or are the fees deigned so that residential and small farm solar or wind no longer make economic sense?

Mediation is voluntary and if it doesn’t work, the customer who thought the coop was charging more than the law allowed wouldn’t be able to appeal to the PUC but only to the coop that set the fee in the first place.

A coop becomes a judge of itself. Worse, since the coop is now taking over the role of the PUC, it would be able to say that an appeal was made in bad faith or is frivolous and then the coop could collect the coop’s legal expenses. What customer would appeal under those circumstances? It would be risky.

While the investigation of the methodology used by coops to impose new fees will go forward at the PUC, that, by no means, insures that the coop will apply a new methodology correctly. So, coop customers have only two recourses: mediation with the coop as final decision maker or go to district court, a very expensive option.

Metro residents can choose to put solar on their roof without big and possibly changing fees. With HF 234, many in rural Minnesota will not have that same opportunity.

Sabotaging solar is not all that is wrong with this bill.

The bill takes away rights and opportunities for outstate citizens for cutting energy waste and saving money by eliminating CIP for small munis and coops. The conservation improvement program would no longer be required for smaller coops (12) and munis (38) and would eliminate efficient lighting, on-bill repayment and low-income programs for customers. Republicans promised more opportunities and here is another example of taking away opportunities for and estimated 40,000 to 62,000 customers.

Big oil and coal have just gotta love the Republican energy bill. They are dependent on dollars leaving this state and creating jobs and wealth in other states

But this bill, now new law, is not good for Minnesota or Minnesotans.

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Going backwards: the Clean Water Legacy provisions that are now law.

June 24th, 2017

In my April 20th post, “Why did House Republicans take Clean Water Legacy money from rural MN communities that don’t have protection plans for their drinking water wells?” I sounded a hopeful note. Rep. Gunther said he wanted to restore Clean Water Legacy money that would be used to protect drinking water.

But that is not what happened.

The dollars for drinking water in the Legacy bill don’t come close to helping the communities that need money to protect their drinking water wells. Mainly these are outstate Minnesota communities that Republicans promised to help. There was no money to help protect the Mississippi, the drinking water source for over a million Minnesotans. In fact, protections for the Mississippi were weakened.

The Department of Health was given enough money to help 20 communities figure out how to protect their drinking water wells.

But there are 380 communities that don’t yet have source water protection plans. (170 vulnerable, 210 non-vulnerable). At the rate of providing funding for 20 per biennium, the number that is in the Legacy bill, community protection plans won’t get done until 2056.

Once a community figures it out what it needs to do to protect its drinking water then there is the challenge of actually protecting drinking water.

There are 960 community public drinking water systems in Minnesota: about 500 have source water protection plans. Those communities and the Department of Health have figured out that 407,000 acres surrounding community wells are highly vulnerable to contamination. But at this point, only 9,900 acres are protected by easements. 5,000 acres could be protect with new CREP money so that means 392,100 acres still need to be protected–and remember these are only the highly vulnerable acres in communities that currently have plans.

If you add up all the money provided for drinking water in the Legacy bill and Health doesn’t spend anything on other essentials, 1,100 additional acres could be protected in the next biennium.

At this rate it would take 708 years to protect the rest of the highly vulnerable acres in communities that currently have plans.

Minnesota is approaching spending a billion dollars of clean water money.

And this is where we are with drinking water. 708 years to go. And that isn’t counting protecting the Mississippi or dealing with thousands of private drinking water wells that have been contaminated through no fault of the owner.