Debate reignites over risks to water from farm runoff

  • Article by: JIM SPENCER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 12, 2012 - 12:06 AM

New report on fertilizer and pesticide dangers is blasted by ag groups.

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halfabubbleApr. 12, 1212:39 AM

take a look at the water coming down the Minnesota River. Who would want to drink that?

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daytonfailApr. 12, 12 3:09 AM

"The voluntary standards are designed to encourage participation in a state where half the land mass is devoted to crops." Give me a break, what we need are regulations with some teeth and the ability to hold the agriculture industry accountable. Unfortunately the agricultural industry is one of the largest campaign contributors for state and federal elections and therefore our politicians will not choose the hard right over the easy wrong which is to force regulation and enforcement to protect our vital water resources. In order to solve this issue, we need to regulate the type and quantity of herbicides and fertilizers, implement mandatory buffer strips along lakes, rivers, and wetlands, and cut drain tiles in our fields that drain out wetlands and allow the soils to be farmed. As a private landowner, if I want to apply fertilizer on my lawn or garden, the government tells me how much phosphorus can be in my fertilizer and won't let me use nitrogen based fertilizers, because they can contaminate the water supply, yet we allow the ag industry to keep doing this. If I own land with a wetland, I can't fill the wetland and there are building restrictions telling me how far away I must be from the wetland; but farmers can tile the wetland and plant into it. Additionally, the tiling of fields leads to increased runnoff of agricultural fields causing water to carry sediments and nutrients into ditches and eventually to lakes and rivers at a faster pace. The result of this is greater erosion of our soils, nutrient loading of our lakes and rivers, and flooding as there is nothing to hold the water back and it is not allowed time to soak into the soils. Case in point, record flooding in the Red River Valley in 8 years since 1997. Drive along any east west road in the area and you will see massive ditches with drain tiles leading into them and in the spring these ditches fill and overflow with water, all of which leads to the rivers and causes the massive flooding. It's time for the agricultural industry that prides itself of being the stewards of the land to step up and apply some of that stewardship, and if they won't do it voluntarily our elected officials must do it through law. I am not one for more regulation, but this is one area in which regulation is needed.

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walleyeguyApr. 12, 12 8:20 AM

daytonfail...I'd like to know where you found that agriculture is one of the biggest campaign contributors. And by the way, the government doesn't tell you how much fertilizer you can apply...you can go to Menards and buy as much as you like and put it on at any rate you want. There are no lawn cops watching. Farmers meanwhile use precision farming techniques that determine how much fertilizer is needed where. This reduces runoff and reduces unnecessary costs from spreading costly fertilizer where it isn't needed. They also can't just rip up a wetland as you suggest. Drainage tile is designed to let the soil filter nutrients and sediment as the water seeps through it. Those drainage ditches you referred to are actually helping to hold water. I understand everyone's desire to protect the land and the water resources. Since they live on the land and rely on it for their livelihood, don't you think farmers are well aware of the need to protect it? I think if you visited a farm you would see that the vast majority use best management practices designed to conserve and protect our resources and additional government regulation is not the answer.

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gooddaytodayApr. 12, 12 9:05 AM

I have absolutely no faith in the Environmental Working Group (EWG). They are a Washington D.C. organization. What do they know about Minnesota? Not a darn thing. All they do is dream up some story to push their radical agenda. Go back to Washington D.C. As far as Deb Schwackhammer. She has an agenda as well. Look, let's have some common sense here people. I think farmers are trying to do the best they can. They are not evil people who want to pollute. They are good hard working people who have a desire to feed the world. Yes they do need to make a living like you and me. And quit the rhetoric about farm subsidies. Less than 20% of the "Farm Bill" is actually for farm assistance. Over 80% is for food and nutrition programs. All I ask is that people be reasonable. Lastly, shame on the reporter for this article. What ever happened to reporting the news in a balanced manner?

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mytoosenseApr. 12, 12 2:44 PM

Warren Formo's statement is ridiculous when he says we don't have a drinking water problem in Minnesota. I know dozens of people in rural Minnesota who can't drink their well water because of high nitrates and others who have had to dig deeper wells at their expense because of high nitrates and pesticides in there water. Corporate ag interests like the ones Formo represents won't even acknowledge there is a problem much less work on ways to address it.

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kristinlarseApr. 13, 12 9:37 AM

If the water southern portion of the state must be allowed to be filled with nitrates and given over to the needs of Cargil, Archer Daniels Midland and Monsanto, and the water of northern portion of the state must be filled with sulfides and given over to the needs of multinational mining corporations like Rio Tinto, Antofogasta and their minions, what water should be apportioned for the needs of the people? Face it - we have HUGE entities with deep pockets seeking to garner bigger profits for their corporations. The corporate minions are chanting their support for the mines / farms food family (as if it were old McDonald and his cow) These are HUGE operations, focused on corporate profit - they are not making healthy food and they are mining to sell on the world market. We the people are being left out of the discussion, it is OUR agencies that should be enforcing laws for OUR protection. Follow the money.

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trev_russellApr. 13, 1212:13 PM

gooddaytoday: EWGs midwest office is in Iowa, and Craig Cox regularly gives presentations and talks throughout Minnesota. This study is co-developed by a Minnesotan. I'm not sure the "they're based in D.C. and don't know MN" argument really holds up, nor would it matter. Facts are fats, regardless of where the guy lives. walleyeguy: Actually, the government DOES tell us how much phosphorous fertilizer we can use on our lawns. its called a P-free fertilizer law, and its been around in one form or another for about a decade in the TC metro area. There are strict regulations on applications of phosphorous fertilizer. Its not perfect, but to say that "u can go to Menards and buy as much as you like and put it on at any rate you want" is not accurate. walleyeguy: You say that "those drainage ditches you referred to are actually helping to hold water." This perspective has been utterly discredit by numerous researchers throughout the state, and isn't even the subject of serious debate anymore. While the Agribusiness industry continues to peddle this falsehood, the fact is that heavily drained and ditched landscapes produce MORE runoff-per-unit-of-precip than non-tiled landscapes. Tiling, wetland conversion, and ditching practices are designed with one thing in mind: Move water OFF the landscape. This water goes somewhere: downstream. The combination of excessive fertilizer application and widespread drainage practices produces a perfect nitrate delivery mechanisms to the states surface waters and groundwaters - the sources of our drinking water. Excess flows - the result of excess runoff from tile drainage, also contribute to flooding and excessive downstream erosion - which chokes rivers and lakes with sediment. Its time to embrace common sense links between crop payments (subsidies and insurance) and conservation compliance for the folks that receive taxpayer support for their private operations. Its unfair for downstream (or local, for that matter) residents to pay the price for upstream agricultural practices that harm our waters with impunity. While MOST farmers do their very best, all the evidence we have is telling us that market realities, Farm Bill policies and economic incentives continue to push our waters to the brink. Its time for a change.

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wordmixApr. 15, 1211:54 AM

When I moved to the Park Rapids area in the 70's, the water was good. Nitrate testing was encouraged sometime in the 80's, after a mega "farmer" moved in. Now we have at least two groups farming most of the land with three crops and our nitrate levels keep climbing. Our small farmers didn't fill in the wetlands or destroy all the woodlots, both of which help to maintain clean water. Now the city of Park Rapids is struggling to find water low enough in nitrates to offer its residents. Those of us in the rural areas either get filters or take our chances. My own well water has had an off-taste for several years. I hauled water in for drinking for a while until I was able to get a good filter. It's nice to have water from home again that doesn't taste like chemicals, including nitrates.

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