Last fall, I had to give a presentation on water quality in my state as part of my environmental policy and regulation class. I knew very little about how water bodies are regulated and protected, but I assumed that clean water wasn’t too big of a problem in Minnesota. After all, this is the “Land of 10,000 Lakes!” A place where children and parents alike flock to beaches or cabins on sweltering summer days to “get away from it all” and enjoy a day at the lake.
Unfortunately, my research seemed to indicate exactly the opposite of what I had thought. According to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA), around 40 percent of tested Minnesota lakes and rivers are considered impaired, meaning they may be unsafe for swimming and fishing. I learned that many of these impairments result from non-point pollution, which is inherently difficult to locate and control.
However, according to a recent MPCA report released last month, more than 70 percent of the nitrogen polluting Minnesota rivers comes from agriculture. Much of this nitrogen flows from Minnesota down the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico, contributing to a dead zone that could reach record sizes this summer.
To date, voluntary efforts have been the main tool used to limit this pollution, since agriculture is exempt from the Clean Water Act and therefore direct regulation. Voluntary efforts can certainly be part of the solution, but not the whole solution. We must produce our food in a way that doesn’t push our land and water over the brink. We cannot allow one single industry to pollute Minnesota water bodies without consequences.
Addressing this problem right now needs to be a priority for Minnesota policymakers, and the public, or the cost to our ecosystems will only increase.
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