Insider: November 3, 2017

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photo credit: USDA

Buffers Help Boost Minnesota Water Health

Wednesday, November 1 marked the deadline for Minnesota farmers to comply with the buffer law, which mandates that farms keep a 50-foot strip of perennial vegetation between their cropland and the streams and ditches that feed into Minnesota’s lakes and rivers. The law, passed in 2015, seeks to tackle the problem of agricultural runoff by implementing these strips to filter that runoff before it enters Minnesota waters. Though the buffer debate has been contentious, the Board of Water and Soil Resources estimates that over 95% of farmers are now in compliance with the law.

The vegetation grown on a buffer strip varies, but the general process is to rely on perennial vegetation’s root systems to absorb a portion of the pesticides and fertilizers that flow downstream. Pesticides in our rivers can kill off native wildlife and harm humans who drink or recreate in the water. Nutrient fertilizers cause harmful algal blooms that leave lakes and estuaries unlivable for fish and other animals. Nitrates in particular pose a health threat – over time, they leach into groundwater that people rely on for drinking, and can cause birth defects in the lungs of infants if consumed by pregnant women.

It’s important to recognize that this buffer law isn’t a cure-all for agricultural pollution. The law allows for the perennial vegetation on buffer strips to be used for other purposes, such as harvesting or grazing, that can reduce the strips’ effectiveness. Even under ideal conditions, not all of the nutrient pollution is filtered from entering lakes and rivers.

But an admittedly imperfect buffer law is still an important step toward restoring Minnesota’s waters, and comes at a critical time. Cities like Adrian and St. Peter, and residents with private wellsthroughout the state, have incurred enormous financial costs to treat water contaminated by nitrates. Buffers may present  farmers with costs of their own, but even prior to the law, a large majority of farmers already implemented buffers. Working to combat runoff pollution by leveling the playing field for farmers is a fair and reasonable policy.

Much more action is needed to restore and improve Minnesota’s water quality and make drinking water safe and accessible for all residents. The buffer law is a helpful step in the right direction, and we commend Minnesota farmers and communities for taking on this clean water challenge.

From the Loon Commons Blog: Stop the “Poison Our Waters Act” before we poison ourselves

Contributed by Julia Fritz-Endres, Macalester student — When was the last time you swam in a lake, splashed in a stream, or drank tap water from your sink? Chances are, you have interacted with surface or groundwater at least once today. Water is omnipresent in our lives, and it is essential to our survival. When our water sources are contaminated, we pay the consequences. For a state proud to call itself the ‘land of 10,000 lakes,’ Minnesota is struggling to keep its lakes clean and healthy. According to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, about 40% of water bodies in the state are ‘impaired,’ meaning that they fail to meet water quality standards. Many of the pollutants impairing these waters come from pesticides, which can increase health risks when highly concentrated. >>Read More.

Tour highlights unique hydrology

(From Winona Post) — The first stop on a tour of the Ahrensfeld Creek watershed last weekend wasn’t even in the watershed. It was quarry a few miles away where a key feature affecting local water quality could be clearly seen in the cliff-like wall of the quarry: joints and fissures in the bedrock and a big hole where slightly acidic rainwater had dissolved a tunnel through the limestone bedrock. 
“That’s a karst feature,” Winona State University geology professor Dylan Blumentritt said, pointing to the hole and using the catch-all term for a range of underground phenomena in Southeast Minnesota, including sinkholes, springs, seeps, and disappearing streams. The maze of underground passageways makes it hard for scientists to predict how groundwater will flow. >>Read More.

Photo credit: NASA

Senate may move forward on dangerous VIDA law

Next week, the US Senate is considering a vote on a Coast Guard funding bill with a dangerous attachment: the Vessel Incidental Discharge Act, or VIDAThis act would strip away at Clean Water Act protections used by the EPA and state authorities to fight invasive species and pollution. It would expose our communities and water resources to future economic and ecological threats.

Invasive species, like the zebra mussels, are already costing our economy billions and hurting the lakes we love. This bill would do harm to waters throughout the United States. The dangers of VIDA go far beyond Minnesota, so no matter where you live, call your Senators at 202-224-3121, and tell them to send the Coast Guard bill back to committee until the VIDA bill is removed.



Judge OKs environmental assessment of proposed Enbridge pipeline

(From Star Tribune) — The state’s environmental assessment of Enbridge’s proposed new Line 3 oil pipeline — heavily criticized by pipeline opponents — has been approved by a state judge. The environmental impact statement (EIS), done by the Minnesota Department of Commerce, was deemed “adequate” in a ruling released Wednesday by Eric Lipman, an administrative law judge.  The EIS made no recommendations. Rather, the August report assessed potential environmental damage from the proposed 340-mile pipeline that would replace Enbridge’s current Line 3. >>Read More.

Enbridge’s proposed Line 3 expansion is controversial for good reason

(From MinnPost) — The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission’s unfortunate cancellation of two public hearings in St. Cloud on Enbridge’s proposed Line 3 expansion denied the public a vital opportunity to provide input on a deeply important agency decision. The Minnesota Department of Commerce’s recent finding that Line 3 is “not needed” only confirms what we already know: Tar sands pipelines are inherently dangerous and increasingly unnecessary. Enbridge spilled over a million gallons of tar sands crude into the Kalamazoo River in 2010. That cleanup has now cost over $1 billion – but a million gallons is a fraction of what Enbridge would be transporting every day through the expanded Line 3. Make no mistake, this proposal is a pipeline expansion. >>Read More.

MEP Releases Line 3 Fact Sheet

To provide policymakers and journalists with a nuanced  understanding of the risks and economics of Line 3, MEP has released a fact sheet on the pipeline, and why it is unneeded and hazardous for Minnesota. We also debunk other myths about this proposal and clarify why Line 3’s supposed benefits to Minnesota are outweighed by its risks.



photo credit: Pioneer Press

Izaak Walton League’s View: Near Boundary Waters, 2-year review a reasonable consideration

(From Duluth News Tribune) — On Sept. 7, U.S. Reps. Rick Nolan and Tom Emmer passed an 11th-hour amendment to the federal omnibus appropriations bill that would defund an ongoing U.S. Forest Service environmental review to investigate the impacts of copper-nickel mining on the watershed that contains the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. Known as the most toxic industry in America by the EPA, hardrock mining in sulfide ore has a track record for causing serious water pollution and deserves thorough review before allowing it in one of the most pristine watersheds in the country. >>Read More.

Stop the sweetheart public land deal to PolyMet

Congress may vote soon on a bill – HR 3115 – to give PolyMet one heck of a deal on over 6,000 acres of National Forest land. PolyMet wants the land for its proposed copper-nickel sulfide mine. Sulfide mining is different from iron-ore mining and has never before taken place in Minnesota.

HR 3115 cheats taxpayers by undervaluing the land, circumventing court challenges and undermining bedrock environmental laws. Speak out here!


Empowered to skip the grid: Renewable energy org makes global connections

(From Brainerd Dispatch) — When surgeons at Phebe Hospital in Liberia enter the operating theater, they wear miners’ headlamps and bring cellphones. Intermittent failure of diesel generators powering the health care facility makes these tools invaluable for illuminating patients’ bodies, allowing doctors to complete surgical procedures. Sometimes, power must be shut down to conserve fuel. During the wet season, roads to the hospital can become impassable, making fuel deliveries impossible. This expensive and unreliable electricity source was once all that was available for a hospital serving nearly 500,000 people in central Liberia. That changed this spring, when Backus-based Rural Renewable Energy Alliance helped install a solar microgrid system alongside some of the hospital’s staff and other locals. >>Read More.


Weekly Outdoor Trivia – Answers Below Job Postings!            

1. Name any of the city of St. Paul’s three largest lakes.

2. What turtle, found in Minnesota, is known for having a shell that resembles a cartographic item?

3. Three north American watersheds meet at the Hill of Three Waters near what northern Minnesota city?

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Trivia Answers: 1) Pig’s Eye, Phalen, and Como. 2) False map turtle 3) Hibbing

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The Minnesota Environmental Partnership (MEP) is a coalition of more than 70 environmental and conservation organizations working together for clean water, clean energy, and protection of our Great Outdoors.

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