The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Special Report: Amber Waves to Muddy Waters

December 6, 2011

Special report preview and podcast: From Amber Waves to Muddy Waters

The environmental threat of the Minnesota River

(Continued)

Day 4: Wednesday, Dec. 7.

Farmers in the cross-hairs

Feeling increasingly in the cross-hairs for fouling the rivers, farm groups have formed a coalition to tell their story.

 “All of us who live in the Minnesota River Valley have a stake in this,” said Warren Formo, executive director of the Minnesota Agricultural Water Resources Coalition.

Formo argues that data linking drainage to much of the sediment problem are based on relatively new science. And he says there may never be enough proof to pinpoint ag drainage as the primary culprit.

Story: Commissioner has a stake in conservation

Blue Earth County Commissioner Will Purvis knows firsthand about the erosive power of the river.

He lives on the farm site southwest of Vernon Center that has been in his family since 1913.

“We have a 1938 photo of the river channel and compared it to 2009. The river has moved onto our property 350 feet in that time,” Purvis said.

The land along the river was put in the Conservation Reserve Program and now is covered with grass and trees. “We’ve slowed (the erosion) but haven’t eliminated it.”

Purvis has taken a leading role on the County Board in water-related issues, and the county is one of a handful in the state that is more aggressively identifying land along streams and rivers that need to install required buffer strips.

Day 5: Thursday, Dec. 8

Protective buffers are rare, but coming

Few argue there are benefits to grass buffer strips alongside open drainage ditches. They filter out fertilizer and chemicals and can slow erosion and sediment getting into waterways.

But across the countryside there are very few of the recommended 16 1/2-foot strips of grass next to ditches.

That will begin to change as more counties begin taking an action that will trigger language in a state law requiring buffers.

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Special Report: Amber Waves to Muddy Waters