Our letter to the MN House on the Groundwater Protection Rule

FMR and our conservation allies recently sent the following letter to the Minnesota House of Representatives opposing proposed legislation to block the state’s Groundwater Protection Rule.

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RE: Please oppose HF 2887 that blocks adoption of Groundwater Protection Rules not approved by the Legislature

April 16, 2018

Dear Representative:

We, the undersigned organizations and the citizens we represent, respectfully ask you to oppose HF 2887 that would impede the Department of Agriculture’s Groundwater Protection Rule. 

Clean, safe drinking water should be accessible and affordable for everyone – regardless of geography, income or water source.

About 70% of Minnesotans get their drinking water from public or private wells.  That is why the legislature approved the bipartisan 1989 Groundwater Protection Act, which gives the state authority to prevent contamination of our groundwater.

Nitrate contamination in drinking water is a growing public health issue

An extensive body of research shows that nitrate from nitrogen fertilizer can leach below the root zone and migrate into our groundwater. Despite farmers’ widespread adoption of efficient nitrogen fertilizer application practices, the problem is getting worse:

  • 537 public water supply wells across the state have elevated nitrate levels.
  • More than 50 communities in MN are facing significantly elevated nitrate levels.
  • Nearly 10% of Minnesota Department of Agriculture-tested private wells in vulnerable areas exceed the Health Risk Limit (HRL), including some townships with 30-40% or more of private wells unsafe to drink.

Because treating the well water or finding new drinking water sources can be prohibitively expensive for communities and individuals, preventing this contamination is vital to protecting public health.

The draft Groundwater Protection Rule was developed with public input

To address this growing nitrate problem, the Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) updated its Nitrogen Fertilizer Management Plan (NFMP) beginning in 2010, with assistance from stakeholders, advisors and more than 420 written comments from citizens over a five-year process. Based on the revised NFMP, the MDA released an informal draft Groundwater Protection Rule in 2017. The agency hosted 17 statewide listening session engaging over 1,500 individuals and reviewed over 820 written comments.

Following extensive revisions, the MDA released a revised draft rule in March 2018, to be followed by additional stakeholder input and public participation prior to adoption.

The rule helps protect public health while maintaining farm productivity

Part 1 of the rule restricts nitrogen fertilizer application in the fall and on frozen soils on only the most vulnerable soils and wellhead protection areas in Minnesota.

  • Part 1 applies to only 12.6% of Minnesota’s farmland; areas where relatively few farm operators practice fall/frozen soil application today.
  • Fall/winter application of nitrogen on vulnerable soils is not recommended under University of Minnesota Best Management Practices.
  • Fall/frozen soil application in the wellhead areas of communities with already-elevated nitrate levels poses a significant risk to public health.

Part 2 of the rule applies only in community wellhead protection areas (Drinking Water Supply Management Areas (DWSMAS) – about 0.45% of Minnesota’s cropland. The rule promotes voluntary best management practice adoption, followed by common-sense regulatory requirements developed in consultation with a local advisory team – including area farmers to reduce nitrate levels in these water supplies.

Protect our drinking water

HF 2887 impedes the MDA’s ability to protect our groundwater by putting unnecessary delays and legislative hurdles into an already lengthy and comprehensive public process. This provision undercuts the authority and ability of our state agencies to protect our public health and well-being.

Minnesotans have waited nearly 30 years for the state to act in the face of mounting evidence of nitrate pollution in our groundwater, one of our state’s most valuable long-term assets. We ask you to oppose these efforts to undercut the Groundwater Protection Act’s ability to protect public health and Minnesota’s drinking water and groundwater.

Please oppose language that blocks groundwater protection rules not approved by the legislature.

Participating organizations:
Alliance for Sustainability
Clean Water Action - Minnesota
Environment Minnesota 
Freshwater Society
Friends of Minnesota Scientific & Natural Areas
Friends of the Mississippi River
Izaak Walton League – Minnesota Division
Land Stewardship Project     
MN Center for Environmental Advocacy
Minnesota Environmental Partnership
Minnesota Native Plant Society
Minnesota Trout Unlimited
Pollinator Friendly Alliance
Save Our Sky-Blue Waters
St. Croix River Association
Wilderness in the City

 

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