More degraded waters should be a call to action

November 23 — Scientific study required when reviewing environmental laws and regulations.

When it comes to our lakes, rivers and streams, there have been decades of studies, most of which have found the same disheartening results.

The state recently added 304 lakes and streams to its list of degraded waters, bringing the total to nearly 3,000.

In Blue Earth County alone, eight newly identified water quality issues brought the total number to 140, including mercury found in fish tissue on portions of the Le Sueur River and deterioration of fish habitat. fish on Madison and Lura lakes.

The biennial compilation of deteriorated water is required by the Environmental Protection Agency and provides information to federal and state agencies to create pollutant reduction plans. These regulations often add limits to “point” pollution – things like pipes from industrial factories and water from city streets and parking lots.

In the world of pollution reduction, this is relatively easy to do. State and federal agencies have a variety of rules governing cities and industries that can be used to demand greater reductions in pollutants – such as forcing cities to reduce their phosphorus emissions from their treatment plants. But it has put too much of a financial burden on cities and their taxpayers with smaller and smaller benefits to show for it.

While regulations have dramatically reduced pollution from point sources, the elephant in the room is the “non-point” source of pollution. In much of Minnesota, this pollution comes from agriculture, mining, logging, and clearing land for development.

While regulators have many tools to limit point pollution, they have less legal power to regulate diffuse pollution, relying mainly on voluntary programs.

When state legislation is proposed to address issues such as runoff from agricultural land, it is most often hampered by effective lobbying efforts.

Some groups have worked mightily to try to find ways to make things better. The Minnesota River Congress, led by Scott Sparlin, was successful in convincing lawmakers to include $ 2 million to provide financial assistance to landowners in the watershed to store more water on farmland.

It is a success to be celebrated and it should be expanded with more state and federal funding.

But five decades after the passage of the Clean Water Act, it’s clear that real progress in improving the state’s water will require much more. This can only happen when citizens exert enough pressure on lawmakers to pass meaningful legislation to reduce diffuse pollution – enough pressure to counter the lobbying efforts of those who oppose it.

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