I have been anticipating the Rush Creek Fish Kill Investigation Report for months. The recent Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) announcement left me breathless. “Rainfall driven runoff likely to blame” was the headline. Really? This is the best our pollution control agency can do? The state has proved once again that they really do need a weatherman to tell which way the wind blows.
All our four driftless area fish kills around Lewiston since 2016 have been due to high-risk, summertime farm manure and pesticide management during the weeks everyone knows to expect intense rains. When you live here you know the routine that is the cause of our fish kills and of our groundwater contamination.
Too many feedlot operators do not have adequate manure storage, forcing them to spread manure all year. In the heat of the summer I usually smell the manure before I see where it is being spread. Starting in early July through early September and I hear the helicopters miles away spraying the fields with toxic fungicides and insecticides, but I can rarely see if they are spraying the waterways or have pesticide drift that covers our yards, our wells, the springs and streams. The routine I recognize is some farmers and pesticide applicators always try to “beat the rain.” Too often they are the cause of the disaster and continuing health risks to fish and people.
The MPCA press release quotes MPCA Assistant Commissioner Dana Vanderbosch: “We share the public’s frustration…” I had to gasp for air. She never said this is unacceptable or that it was preventable.
After 50 years of MPCA environmental management in Minnesota our surface waters are impaired, our contaminated aquifers are worse every year, almost half of local residents drink nitrate and pesticide laden water, and every other year another fish kill shows us the risk to our health. But all we get from the MPCA commissioners office are more thoughts and prayers.
Maybe this is an opportunity to try to prevent future problems. Maybe this time the governor will say this is threatening our kids. Maybe this time something can be done. But we can’t accept more of the same.
Jeff Broberg was an environmental consultant in Rochester for 28 years and was president of the Minnesota Trout Association. He is currently a director of the Minnesota Well Owners Organization and lives on his farm on Dakota Land near St. Charles, Minnesota.