Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Water permits or buffers everywhere #cleanwaterwednesday

I know Wednesday is tomorrow, but so much related to clean water is happening now I couldn't wait. This is an "exciting" time for Minnesota's Department of Natural Resources (MNDNR). PolyMet has applied for a water appropriation permit and a dam safety permit for the proposed NorthMet project. (The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency separately received the 1,900 page "water quality permit." Meanwhile, the Timberjay newspaper reports that the US Environmental Protection Agency is "raising new concerns about whether the state of Minnesota is undermining federal pollution laws..." [paywalled story].)

St. Louis River in Jay Cooke State Park, downstream from PolyMet
St. Louis River in Jay Cooke State Park, downstream from PolyMet
Photo by J. Harrington

Back at the MNDNR, today is the day that the agricultural buffer maps have been released and implementation begins based on new state legislation. I'm troubled that the maps appear to delineate where buffers are required, but don't seem to indicate any existing compliance with current buffer laws and rules. Let's hope that future efforts will clearly identify which locations have met the requirement to implement and which haven't. At least for some parts of the Vermillion River watershed, there are reports that identify specific fields that could use the implementation of some Best Management Practices.

did growing these pollute our waters?
did growing these pollute our waters?
Photo by J. Harrington

As a strong supporter of local food and local farmers, I'd like to know whether the vegetables at my farmers market or community supported agriculture site are being produced by a farmer who is protecting clean water. In fact, I'd like to see several "Clean Water Certification" programs started for those who meet the buffer and other water quality related requirements. That kind of effort would help to make farming more sustainable. Maybe even General Mills and other huge agribusinesses, as part of greening their supply chain, would want to participate. Land O'Lakes is a partner in Minnesota's Water Quality Certification Program, and west coast communities have "Salmon Safe" certifications for farms and other land uses, including a large airport.

While all of this is going on, the U.S. Forest Service is considering cancellation of the renewal of mineral leases that would allow copper mining in the Boundary Waters watershed; Essar Steel, while in the midst of bankruptcy, is asserting that termination of their mineral leases is invalid; and, not really related to the preceding, but having to do with Minnesota's waters, last night's storms left flooding , damaged buildings and infrastructure in their wake, and rising rivers to be dealt with. What's the design storm PolyMet's consultants used for their plans? It's looking more and more as if we can have clean water or we can have business as usual, but not both. Which would you prefer?


By Ralph Waldo Emerson

The water understands
Civilization well;
It wets my foot, but prettily,
It chills my life, but wittily,
It is not disconcerted,
It is not broken-hearted:
Well used, it decketh joy,
Adorneth, doubleth joy:
Ill used, it will destroy,
In perfect time and measure
With a face of golden pleasure
Elegantly destroy.

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