Why an EIS for Riverview Baker Dairy? Too Little Water, Too Much Manure

Posted by

When Renville County dairy farmer James Kanne addressed a Minnesota Senate hearing on environmental review Jan. 29, he made it clear that size does matter when it comes to assessing the impact of an agricultural operation on the land and community.

“If you have 50 cows in one spot, they have a small impact,” Kanne told the Senate Environment and Energy Committee at the Capitol in St. Paul. “If you have 5,000 cows in one spot, that’s a whole other ballgame.”

And if you are proposing to put 8,850 milk cows and 500 heifers in one spot, you’re talking about not just a different ballgame, but a different sport, one in which the participant slurps up 100 million gallons of water annually and produces enough liquid manure to cover nearly 10 square miles.

That’s what Riverview LLP would like to do in Stevens County’s Baker Township, making it the largest dairy in the state. In August, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency Citizens’ Board ordered an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) be done to determine if the dairy gets a green light. This decision was based on an Environmental Assessment Worksheet (EAW) that had been coordinated by the MPCA. EAWs provide a general assessment of the potential environmental impact of a proposed project, while an EIS takes a much more big-picture view, assessing everything from the cumulative impacts of having several CAFOs in a community (Riverview LLP has other mega-dairies already in operation in the area, each with thousands of heads of cows) to the socioeconomic effects of a project.

The MPCA Citizens’ Board decision has drawn a significant backlash from members of the Legislature who are allies of industrial agriculture. They have openly talked about using this legislative session to severely curtail the Citizens’ Board’s power or outright eliminate it. (The idea of killing the Citizens’ Board came up earlier this week during the invitation-only “Stronger Together: Minnesota Dairy Growth Summit” held at the University of Minnesota’s Saint Paul campus. Besides the U of M, the “summit” was hosted by Midwest Dairy Associates and the Minnesota Milk Producers Association. Most of the discussion centered around removing barriers for getting more dairy cows, rather than more dairy farmers, established in our communities.)

But as the Jan. 29 hearing made clear, the MPCA Citizens’ Board had good reason to order an EIS for the Baker project, and we all have a stake in making sure the Board has the power to take similar actions in the future.

When the Citizens’ Board voted 6-1 to order an EIS, the extensive “Findings of Fact” it provided to bolster its case show that this was not a decision it took lightly. There are several issues that need to be investigated thoroughly when it comes to a project of this size and scope, issues a simple EAW simply can’t address. Specifically, the EAW couldn’t determine the long-term impact Riverview LLP’s proposal would have on groundwater and surface water, key issues in a part of the state where wells are going dry and the Pomme de Terre River is already significantly impaired.

At 29 gallons her head, per day, the estimated annual water usage for Riveriew LLP’s Baker Dairy project is at least 98,969,750 gallons. The deeper aquifer in the area of the dairy will reach 50 percent threshold by the 2030s at current water use levels. As the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources points out, when a confined aquifer reaches 50 percent threshold, “sustainability of the aquifer is in question.” A DNR analysis found that if the proposed factory farm dairy is allowed to drill the two new wells it wants to, the aquifer will reach the 50 percent threshold “much sooner than the 2030s.”

It’s not just water quantity that’s threatened by an operation of this size. It’s estimated Riveriew LLP’s Baker Dairy will need 6,300 acres of land to take care of all the manure those cows will be producing. Problem is, the dairy’s owners currently have access to only 3,060 acres of land it either owns or rents. Theoretically, the dairy could make up for that 3,240-acre shortfall by talking crop farmers in the area into buying the manure. The success of such a method for getting rid of excess manure depends a lot on how much farmers are willing to pay for the stuff. Here in Minnesota, hauling manure much past a mile starts to lose economic feasibility fast, according to a technical paper done for the Minnesota Generic Environmental Impact Statement on Animal Agriculture. So the temptation is to dump it as close to the CAFO facilities as possible, creating an excess of nutrients like phosphorus and nitrogen in the immediate area, which can result in contaminated water.

This brings up a key difference between a farm like James Kanne’s and the Riverview LLP operation. Small and moderate-sized dairies tend to have a more close-loop system when it comes to manure management: the operations are of a size that they can grow their own feed and the amount of manure is of modest enough volumes that it can be applied to the very fields near the barn that produced that feed in the first place.

As Minnesota’s Generic Environmental Impact Statement on Animal Agriculture found, “Larger feedlots, on average, have much higher levels of [phosphorus] build-up than do smaller feedlots,” as a result of this imbalance. Studying 3,907 feedlot permits issued over a 20-year period, the study found the largest operations were producing as much as 38 pounds of excess phosphorus for each acre of land to which the manure was applied, while the smallest operations had a phosphorus deficit in many cases. And that excess phosphorus (and nitrogen) can be a significant water pollutant all the way to the Gulf of Mexico.

As Kanne, who milks 48 cows on 240 acres, pointed out to the Senate Environment Committee, farms that are his scale don’t have a problem with environmental reviews. He described to the Committee how he had to undergo such a review when constructing a manure storage facility for his dairy.

“We had to do an assessment of what we would do as a farm, how that would impact the groundwater and where we would haul the manure,” Kanne said. “That is no problem for a small farm to handle.”

A diversified family farm that has a tight nutrient cycle simply isn’t going to have the kind of impact that warrants an EIS, and those kinds of operations don’t need to push their costs of waste disposal onto the public. Unfortunately, some lawmakers don’t agree.

“That’s not real ag,” Senator Julie Rosen of Fairmont said during a Senate Rural Task Force hearing in November, referring to the 320-acre diversified farm owned and operated by a Citizens’ Board member. Rather, Rosen added, Riverview LLP’s Baker Dairy is her idea of “real ag.” (Senator Rosen is also a member of the Environment and Energy Committee, but she was noticeably silent during the Jan. 29 hearing.)

Senator Rosen may want to check her statistics. Almost 80 percent of Minnesota dairy farmers have under 100 cows. Study after study, some done at the U of M, verifies that communities benefit more economically and socially from several small and moderate-sized working farms, rather than a handful of mega-operations. And that brings up another major question that an EIS can help answer: what impact will it have on the economic fabric of an area reliant on family sized farms? That’s a key question, one that gets overlooked in the drive to serve the interests of a special few in the agri-industrial complex.

Riverview LLP is already having an impact. Kathy DeBuhr, a Stevens County farmer who lives within a mile of the proposed operation, told the Senate Environment Committee on Jan. 29 that her two sons want to farm, but high land prices in the area are an insurmountable barrier.

“[Riverview] has bought up land right next to ours for over twice the going rate of the rest of the land and that’s one reason why my sons will not be able to farm,” DeBuhr said. “We can’t afford to pay what this dairy can pay.”

Kanne’s daughter and son-in-law have recently joined his dairy operation, giving him hope for the kind of agriculture that focuses on sustainable profits and quality of life, rather than just unlimited milk production, no matter what the cost.

“There’s no greater joy for me than to see them coming into the farm operation, and to be able to be there with my grand kids and be able to work with them side-by-side. That is what family farming is all about,” said Kanne. “And if we’re losing that family farm, then we’re losing our communities in rural Minnesota and we lose the fabric of our rural area because of it. So we do not just need to focus on more and more milk, we need more and more farmers.”

That’s real ag.

Minnesota wild rice protections rolled back by new bills

Posted by

Saint Paul, Minn. (Feb. 16, 2015) – Senators Tomassoni, Saxhaug, Bakk and Ingebrigtsen introduced S.F. 868 today, which would roll back existing water quality rules set in place to protect our state’s natural wild rice. Companion bill H.F. 853 was introduced last week. The bill would suspend current sulfate standards in wild rice waters.

Minnesota has more natural wild rice stands than any other state or Canadian province, and has designated it as the state grain. For centuries, Native Americans of the upper Midwest, relied upon the grain as an important source of protein, and European pioneers depended on it for survival. It is also an important food source and habitat for wildlife, including waterfowl.

Minnesota’s wild rice protection rule was set by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and adopted by the federal Environmental Protection Agency. In 2011, similar bills were introduced in both the Minnesota House and Senate that proposed to modify or suspend the current federally-approved water quality standards for wild rice waters. Those proposals were deemed by the EPA to be an overreach of legislative authority.

 The Minnesota Environmental Partnership, the state’s largest coalition of environmental and conservation nonprofits, issued this statement:

“Here we go again,” said Steve Morse, executive director of the Minnesota Environmental Partnership.  “This is yet another attack on our state’s water quality. This is just the most recent attempt to undermine protections of wild rice. Both the courts and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) agree that the current state process is the right way to proceed to protect our waters and our state grain. This legislation would rollback current water quality standards – we think our wild rice and our water deserve better: rules based on fact, not suspended through power politics. Our wild rice legacy depends on it.”

###

Minnesota Environmental Partnership is a statewide coalition of more than 70 environmental and conservation organizations working together for clean water, clean energy and protection of our Great Outdoors. The Minnesota Environmental Partnership engages state leaders, unites environmental efforts and helps citizens take action for the Minnesota they love.

News Watch: Feb. 16

Posted by

Today’s Topics: Agriculture & Food; Climate Change; Consumer Protection; Energy; Frac Sand Mining; Mining; Oil & Pipelines; Parks & Trails; Transportation; Waste & Recycling; Water; Wildlife; 

Agriculture & Food
 
Climate Change
Duluth News Tribune: Facts of climate not up for vote 
 
Consumer Protection
 
Energy
 
Frac Sand Mining
Red Wing Republican Eagle: Sand mining plan could be staggering 
 
Mining
 
Oil & Pipelines
 
Parks & Trails
 
Transportation
Waste & Recycling
 
Water
 
Wildlife

News Watch: Feb. 12

Posted by

Today’s Topics: Agriculture & Food; Climate Change; Energy; Frac Sand Mining; Legislature & Agency; Mining; Oil & Pipelines; Sustainability; Transportation; Waste & Recycling; Water; Wildfires; Wildlife & Fish; Wisconsin; 

Agriculture & Food
 
Climate Change
Minnesota Daily: Young leaders take reins 
 
Energy
 
Frac Sand Mining
 
Legislature & Agency
 
Mining
 
Oil & Pipelines
 
Sustainability
 
Transportation
 
Waste & Recycling
 
Water
Star Tribune: Counterpoint: The science is clear: Protect our wild rice written by Paula Maccabee of MEP member group WaterLegacy 
 
Wildfires
 
Wildlife & Fish
 
Wisconsin

Minnesota Environmental Community Issues Statement on Bills to Undermine Water Quality Standards

Posted by

Saint Paul, MN – February 9, 2015 – Today, a set of bills were introduced in the Minnesota Senate that directly attacks water quality standards set by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (SF689 and SF690, authored by Sens. Eken , Koenen, Rosen, and Hoffman). A companion set of bills were introduced in the Minnesota House last week.

The Minnesota Environmental Partnership, the state’s largest coalition of environmental and conservation nonprofits, issued this statement about the harm these bills would cause:

“These bills undermine the water quality efforts underway in Minnesota,” said Steve Morse, executive director of the Minnesota Environmental Partnership. “They would add a costly, duplicative process and strip the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) of its long-standing authority to set standards and rules to protect water quality, including standards to protect our water from sulfide, sediment and fertilizer pollution. The MPCA ’s plans for protecting and restoring the quality of the rivers, lakes and streams, from which Minnesotans drink, as well as play and recreate in, are based on years of research and sound science. The set of bills introduced today are an assault to the executive branch’s authority and would allow the Legislature to intervene directly in the agency’s work and determine scientific standards. Our water quality standards must be set using sound, peer-reviewed science, not determined by politicians” 

“These bills would require extensive additional, duplicative process, on top of the many years of work already done by the agency. They would be an unnecessary wasteful use of public money and would further delay actions to protect our water.”

# # #

Minnesota Environmental Partnership is a statewide coalition of more than 70 environmental and conservation organizations working together for clean water, clean energy and protection of our Great Outdoors. The Minnesota Environmental Partnership engages state leaders, unites environmental efforts and helps citizens take action for the Minnesota they love.

News Watch: Feb. 9

Posted by

Today’s Topics: Agriculture & Food; Climate Change; Conservation; Energy; Frac Sand Mining; Mining; Oil & Pipelines; Outdoors; Sustainability; Transportation; Water

Agriculture & Food
 
Climate Change
Brainerd Dispatch: Reader Opinion: Global warming? 
Timberjay: Climate threat 
 
Conservation
 
Energy
Rochester Post Bulletin: When the wind blows, the taxes will fall 
 
Frac Sand Mining
 
Mining
 
Oil & Pipelines
Rochester Post Bulletin: Cartoon: Drilling the Middle Ground 
 
Outdoors
 
Sustainability
 
Transportation
 
Water


 

If we are serious about fighting climate change, we need to get serious about investing in transit

Posted by

mirandaEvery year when the legislative session starts, we begin to look at our priorities for Minnesota, considering how we can continue to improve our state. Many of these conversations are held separately, being examined in silos, while in truth many are deeply intertwined. As we discuss how to fix Minnesota’s transportation system in one sphere, we are simultaneously discussing climate change elsewhere, but these two issues affect each other and must be solved together. When investing in transportation, we cannot ignore the significant impact it may have on our climate.

We are already beginning to see the effects of climate change, with severe droughts, extreme weather events, and irreversible damage to ecosystems. There are already climate refugees from low lying islands who have to be relocated to escape rising sea levels, and there is no doubt we will see more and more. All of this makes it obvious that we need to take serious action now, in every sector. We must tackle every source of greenhouse gas emissions we can, and cars are no exception. Cars not only release harmful pollutants that can cause asthma and other respiratory problems, especially among children, but also significant amounts of greenhouse gases. Cars and other forms of transportation are responsible for almost a quarter of carbon pollution in Minnesota, second only to the power sector. The average car emits about 10,000 pounds of CO2 a year, which means moving away from heavy car use has the potential to put a big dent in our carbon emissions.

As a student with no car and as someone who cares about combatting pollution and climate change, the need for an effective transit system could not be clearer to me. We cannot ask people to simply drive less if no alternative is provided, especially for folks who have to travel long distances for work or to the grocery store. By creating a comprehensive public transit infrastructure with light rail, bus rapid transit, and trains -to name a few- we would be making transit the transportation option of choice. Cars are dangerous, expensive, and terrible for the environment, but right now they can get you where you need to go three to four times faster than transit can, even in the metro area, and that can make all the difference in the world. Waiting to transfer to a bus that only comes every 30 minutes is bad enough when the weather is good, but it can be excruciating in the Minnesota winter. Heat lamps aren’t even available at many stops, especially those in low income communities, which are often the most transit dependent. We cannot ignore the needs of those who already use transit as we develop infrastructure that will encourage more people to leave cars behind.

While effective and equitable public transit is a major component of reducing pollutants in transportation, walking and biking provide zero-carbon modes of travel, not to mention healthy ones. With our current roads, biking and walking can prove dangerous and unappealing. To encourage these options we need to create streets that benefit all who wish to use them, through changes in road, sidewalk, and bike lane structure.

Environmentally friendly forms of transportation don’t appear magically, they happen through investment in new infrastructure and improvement of old systems. We must pass legislation that would allow for the creation of a 21st century transit system that quickly gets folks where they need to go and puts less stress on our roads, our wallets, and our environment.

News Watch: Feb. 5

Posted by

Today’s Topics: Agriculture & Food; Climate Change; Energy; Frac Sand Mining; Mining; Green Building; Legislature & Agency; Mining; Oil & Pipelines; Parks & Trails; Transportation; Water; Wildlife;

Agriculture & Food
 
Climate Change
 
Energy
Rochester Post Bulletin: Greenspace: From Minnesota to the nation featuring MEP member group MN Izaac Walton League 
 
Frac Sand Mining
 
Green Building
 
Legislature & Agency
 
Mining
 
Oil & Pipelines
 
Parks & Trails
 
Sustainable Business
 
Transportation
 
Water
St. Cloud Times: Letter: Close loophole to protect clean water written by Elliot Holmlund of MEP member group Environment Minnesota 
 
Wildlife

News Watch: Feb. 2

Posted by

Today’s Topics: Agriculture & Food; Climate Change; Conservation & Restoration; Energy; Mining; Oil & Pipelines; Transportation; Wildlife; 

 
Climate Change
 
Conservation & Restoration
 
Energy
 
Mining
 
Oil & Pipelines
 
Transportation
 
Wildlife
 

 


 

Clean Water & Wildlife Conservation Groups Applaud Governor Dayton’s Proposal for Expanded Buffers Along State Waterways

Posted by

Saint Paul, MN – January 30, 2015 – Twenty-nine Minnesota environmental and conservation organizations delivered a letter today to Governor Mark Dayton, praising his leadership in proposing expansion of perennial vegetation buffers along the state’s lakes, rivers, streams and wetlands.  The Governor made his proposal at the state’s Department of Natural Resources Roundtable on January 16.

Buffers of perennial vegetation are known to provide soil and water conservation, protect water quality, and provide essential nesting, feeding, and sheltering habitat for pollinators, birds, and other wildlife.   “This is the most significant conservation initiative for water and wildlife proposed by a Minnesota governor in decades.  Minnesotans enthusiastically support Governor Dayton’s leadership in protecting our water,” said Steve Morse, executive director of the Minnesota Environmental Partnership.

Minnesota has lost roughly a quarter of grasslands enrolled in the federal Conservation Reserve Program, as a result of recent spikes in commodity prices.  That has reduced wildlife habitat for popular game species like pheasants and ducks.  “We strongly support the Governor’s proposal to increase riparian buffers, said Brad Nylin, executive director of Minnesota Waterfowl Association.  “We believe that this will be a huge help on the landscape for habitat and all wildlife.”

The full text of the letter can be viewed here.

# # #

About Minnesota Environmental Partnership

Minnesota Environmental Partnership is a coalition of more than 70 environmental, civic, and conservation organizations working together for clean water, clean energy and protection of our Great Outdoors. MEP engages state leaders, unites environmental efforts and helps citizens take action for the Minnesota they love.