Groups Want Farm Operators to be Held Accountable To Clean Up Minnesota’s Waters

Release Date: Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Saint Paul (Jan. 17, 2012) Members of the Minnesota Environmental Partnership (MEP) today offered guiding principles to ensure that large farm operators do their share to help clean up Minnesota’s lakes, rivers and streams under a new state and federal funded proposal announced today by Governor Mark Dayton, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson and U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.

Under a voluntary joint federal-state proposal, farm operators would be allowed to adopt practices designed to prevent pollution from running off their farmland and avoid being required to meet future state and federal water quality standards as they are developed to ensure that farm runoff will not further pollute Minnesota’s waters.

Since the passage of the Clean Water Act in 1972, the agricultural sector has been exempt from programs that require measurable and enforceable reductions in water pollution. In Minnesota, conservation and environmental groups have been working to ensure that large farm operators be held accountable – just as cities and other businesses are – to prevent and clean up pollution from their operations.

“We want to protect Minnesota’s lakes, rivers and streams,” said Trevor Russell of the Friends of the Mississippi River. “Just last week we learned that 500 more waters in our state have been identified as not meeting basic water quality standards set by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. Right now, 40 percent of our lakes, rivers and streams that have been tested are too polluted for fishing or swimming.”

“As it stands now, this proposal is very vague. It does not provide the certainty that we need that our waters will become clean and healthy,” said Steve Morse, executive director of MEP. “There are no assurances that the practices farm operators adopt, when added together, will get the results Minnesotans expect. Once the technical and stakeholders committees are appointed, we urge them to establish strong oversight so that Minnesotans who drink the water that comes from our rivers and eat the fish from our lakes will be assured that everyone – including agriculture – does their share to protect our water.”

The Minnesota Environmental Partnership and its member groups believe that any agricultural water pollution clean-up program must:

• Ensure water quality will meet standards. Any voluntary agricultural water quality certification plan must effectively reduce pollution to safe levels in affected lakes, rivers and streams and be evaluated by an independent examination team.

• Be targeted to the greatest needs. Funding for pollution reduction projects should be focused on the most effective projects to reduce water pollution.

• Ensure accountability from farm operators. There must be mechanisms in place to ensure an entire farming operation is included in an evaluation and that farm management plans are reviewed on a periodic basis to ensure accountability. Operations not currently in compliance with existing law must not be eligible to participate.

• Be consistent with existing pollution reduction programs and laws. Currently factories and cities implementing water quality improvement plans must meet safe water quality standards through five-year agreements. Any voluntary certification for large farm operators should follow the same time frame.

Minnesota Environmental Partnership is a statewide coalition of 79 nonprofit conservation and environmental organizations. Formed in 1998, MEP works with its member organizations to protect and restore Minnesota’s lakes, rivers, streams, forests, wildlife habitat and natural areas.

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