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Water wish list

A 145-page water management report, commissioned by the 2009 Minnesota Legislature to provide direction for Legacy amendment funds, lays out a 25-year road map that, its authors say, will protect and preserve the state’s lakes, rivers and groundwater for the 21st century and beyond.

The report, called the Minnesota Water Sustainability Framework, generated by the University of Minnesota’s Water Resources Center, covers all aspects of water — from supply to use and reuse. The authors identified 10 major water issues and provided recommendations for timelines, implementation, research and funding for each.

Recommendations specific to agriculture address excessive nutrients and other pollutants, drainage and tiling, conservation, creating a Water Sustainability Board, and forming watershed and soil conservation authorities, or cooperatives.

Key Points

Lawmakers asked U-M Water Resources Center to study water quality issues.

They sought suggestions on how to invest funds generated by Legacy amendment.

Recommendations for agriculture overlook current practices.

Among the top five actions that are considered priority, the authors noted that farmers must “comply with water quality standards through implementation plans for reducing pollutants” and “be at the table to be part of this solution.” They recommend implementation plans for all Total Maximum Daily Load studies and that pollutant load reductions be mandatory for all, including nonpoint sources, such as nutrient runoff from farms.

They also recommend reforming state policy regarding ag sources of nutrients, solids, pesticides and bacteria to accelerate improvements in water quality. To do that, they suggest that a new farmer-led cooperative in each watershed across the state would work together to meet TMDL reductions.

Farmer response

The report is generating more questions about water quality among farmers and their organizations. Why? The report holds farming in its crosshairs while glossing over conservation strides made in the last few decades that have improved water and soil in the state, they say.

“The report doesn’t add anything new to the water quality discussion that has been evolving in recent years,” says Warren Formo, executive director of the Minnesota Agricultural Water Resources Coalition. “It simply repackages many of the same recommendations that have surfaced in the past.”

Formo says that the report’s recommendations for agriculture reveal a very limited awareness and understanding of modern farming practices and of rural Minnesota in general.

“Many of Minnesota’s watershed districts and Soil and Water Conservation Districts are working effectively on water quality issues, yet their efforts seem to have gone unnoticed amidst the call for a new local water planning structure,” he says. “Farmers are ‘at the table,’ but are usually faced with the task of countering myths and misinformation that has led to a deeply entrenched notion that agriculture must be ‘the problem.’”

Photo: Dave Hansen, University of Minnesota

This article published in the February, 2011 edition of THE FARMER.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2011.