Science-based study is necessary when considering environmental legislation and regulation.
When it comes to our lakes, rivers and streams, there have been decades of study — much of it finding the same disheartening results.
The state recently added 304 lakes and streams to its Impaired Waters list, pushing the total to nearly 3,000.
In Blue Earth County alone, eight newly listed water quality issues raised the total number to 140, including mercury found in fish tissue on portions of the Le Sueur River and worsened habitats for fish on Madison and Lura lakes.
The biennial compilation of deteriorated waters is required by the Environmental Protection Agency and gives federal and state agencies information to create plans to reduce pollutants. Those regulations often add limits to “point-source” pollution — things like pipes coming from industrial plants and water coming off of city streets and parking lots.
In the world of pollution reduction, that’s relatively easy to do. State and federal agencies have a variety of rules governing cities and industries that can be used to require greater reductions in pollutants — such as requiring cities to cut their phosphorus emissions from their treatment plants. But that has put too much of the financial burden on cities and their taxpayers with increasingly smaller benefits to show for it.
While regulations have dramatically cut pollution coming from point sources, the elephant in the room is the “non-point” sources of pollution. In much of Minnesota that pollution comes from agriculture, mining, logging and clearing land for developments.
While regulators have plenty of tools to limit point-source pollution they have less legal authority to regulate non-point pollution, mostly relying on voluntary programs.
When state legislation is proposed to address issues such as farmland runoff, it is more often than not derailed by effective lobbying efforts.
Some groups have worked mightily to try to find ways to improve things. The Minnesota River Congress, led by Scott Sparlin, was successful in convincing lawmakers to include $2 million to offer financial assistance to landowners in the river basin to store more water on farmland.
It is a success to be celebrated and it should be expanded with more state and federal funding.
But five decades after the passage of the Clean Water Act, it’s clear real progress on improving the state’s water will require much more. That can only come when citizens put enough pressure on lawmakers to pass meaningful legislation to reduce non-point pollution — enough pressure to counter the lobbying efforts of those who oppose it.