April Showers Bring Farm Runoff

Environment Minnesota Research & Policy Center

With the first full month of spring upon us, Minnesotans are eagerly awaiting the continued melting of snow and the thawing of our lakes and rivers. But before diving in or casting out, we need to assess the quality of our state’s water bodies. Because April showers don’t just bring May flowers, they also bring excessive amounts of agricultural runoff and other farm-related pollution.

This first week of April, Environment Minnesota is engaged in what they are calling a “Clean Water Week of Action.” Environment Minnesota has partnered with local groups and leaders in south-central Minnesota to show Governor Dayton the importance of clean water and the urgency to protect and restore Minnesota’s rivers. This unified effort is pushing for the approval of river phosphorous standards and the creation of limits for nitrogen pollution as well.
Environment Minnesota and supporters are promoting an online petition today and urging citizens to contact Governor Dayton about the importance of protecting Minnesota’s rivers.

“The creation of science-based standards will prove integral to the implementation of future cleanup plans. We need to ensure our rivers are protected from pollution and so far, voluntary programs for the agricultural industry are not leading to the progress we need,” said Lucas Melby, a Hamline student and Mankato-area resident.

In a study released by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency last summer, it was found that around half of Minnesota’s waterways are considered “impaired,” meaning they do not meet water quality standards and can be unsafe for drinking, swimming, and fishing. Phosphorous and nitrogen pollution from agricultural sources are the major cause of this impairment, with more than 73 percent of the nitrogen coming from sources like cropland drainage and field runoff, according to the study. These excess nutrients can cause waters to become eutrophic and overrun with slimy and harmful algal blooms and can create health risks for those who drink from them.

“Drinking water sources contaminated with nitrogen are particularly dangerous for pregnant women and infants. This latter group is specifically susceptible to what is known as ‘blue-baby syndrome,’ which involves infants’ blood being unable to oxygenate properly,” said Melby.

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency has proposed science-based standards that would limit the amount of phosphorous that could enter Minnesota’s rivers, but these have yet to be approved. Environment Minnesota and supporters are mobilizing to let the Dayton Administration know the importance of moving forward with these and future protections for Minnesota’s waterways.