On long-term experiments and tools of first resort

by Steve Woods, executive director

I’ve written and spoken repeatedly over the last year about how the 35-year “experiment” known as the Metropolitan Surface Water Management Act of 1982 has been a huge success. Great bipartisan legislation, signed by a Republican governor, and successfully put into effect by local governments. Sure there were a few stumbles on the way, but three decades of data shows there was far more success.

Another long-term experiment didn’t have such a spectacular outcome. From 1986 to 1990, Freshwater mounted a series of heavyweight conferences and publications on agrichecmicals and groundwater. We did this with state and federal agencies, The Fertilizer Institute, Farm Bureau, Minnesota Extension Service, National Agricultural Chemicals Association, and speakers from a dozen states plus the Soil and Water Conservation Society’s legendary leader, Norm Berg. This massive undertaking laid much of the foundation for the science behind the Minnesota Groundwater Protection Act of 1989.

As we approach the 30th anniversary of the act, it has been in the news because of a drawn-out rules process addressing nitrogen fertilizer.

Everybody wanted to avoid regulation because it is intrusive, costly to all, and usually not very flexible. It is a tool of last resort. But data is data, and after 30 years the data collected by the Department of Agriculture shows that the tools of first resort — voluntary best management practices, application of technology, and cost-sharing — haven’t stemmed the increase of nitrogen found in our waterways and drinking water supplies.

As the proposed rules creep forward during the waning days of the Dayton administration both sides in the debate are dissatisfied. Farmers say the rules are not fair to them, and supporters of regulation counter by saying it’s not fair for rural towns that are faced with expensive upgrades to remove the pollution from their family’s drinking water.

Supporters say 30 years is long enough to try. Farmers counter that today’s technology is making significant inroads to manage fertilizer efficiently.

As we head into the 2019 session, Freshwater is pushing hard to get state government working on adding aquifer recharge as a critical tool to ensure and protect the water supplies our regional economies need to thrive. As we approach the 30th anniversary of the Groundwater Act, it’s a nice non-regulatory method — a tool of first resort — to stretch our water supplies for the next generation.


1 thought on “On long-term experiments and tools of first resort”

  1. It’s such a simple concept: Just like your family or business finances – you can’t spend more than you take in indefinitely!
    I’d like to see a clever public education spot on social media to make the point and let people know what each of us can do. So much of our precipitation goes right down the Mississippi.

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