Policy decisions by the MN Legislature decide the health and persistence of coldwater fisheries around Minnesota and in Lake Superior. Speaking up for clean water and coldwater fisheries is vital to ensuing places for us, our children and our friends to enjoy quality trout, steelhead and salmon fishing in the future. This update provides the background you need to understand the current threats and how you might help before the Legislature’s May 21 adjournment.
Last Friday was the MN Legislature’s internal deadline for bills to be acted on by the appropriate committees in both the House and Senate in order to remain active and moving forward for final action before May 21. There are ways for provisions which did not make the deadline to be tacked on to other active bills, but we now have a better sense of what policy changes are “in play” this year. MNTU has worked with many partners to keep other dubious proposals from advancing. Below is an overview of some of the bad policies still active which may require a call or email by fans of clean water and healthy trout fisheries in the next 4 weeks:
- Groundwater Sustainability
Provisions undermining sustainable management of finite groundwater supplies are included in the House Omnibus Environment Bill, HF 3502.
Groundwater is the lifeblood of our trout streams, keeping them cool in the summer and “warm” enough in the winter. Applications for DNR groundwater appropriation permits allowing pumping of huge volumes for irrigation have soared in the past 10 years and use is exceeding sustainability thresholds in some areas. Some of these aquifers support valuable fisheries, such as the Straight River. Groundwater is a public resource which landowners may make “reasonable use” of. The amount which constitutes a reasonable use amount is set by statute and amounts above this require a permit from DNR. State law requires DNR to permit only amounts which are sustainable and which do not deplete the aquifer or negatively impacts connected aquatic systems such as trout streams.
HF 3502 would:
- Require DNR, rather than the applicant, to pay for a test well needed to determine if the high volume sought is sustainable (section 40)
- Prohibit DNR from imposing conditions or requiring testing when a landowner transfers his/her permit to a new owner, even where the old permitted amount is no longer sustainable (section 39)
- Require DNR demonstrate that any data used to restrict water usage “supports or verifies the decision”; existing law already requires decisions based on data and DNR does share data with applicants, but this add raise the bar, burden and costs (section 41)
- Require DNR to conduct expensive economic impact studies for each permit application, even though it has no economists on staff and the central issue – is there is or is not enough water available – is factual, not economic (section 41)
MNTU opposes these attempts to curtail the sustainability standard for the use of groundwater. The provisions are found in sections 39 to 41 of HF 3502 (lines 43.8 to 43.28). Use the link below: https://www.revisor.mn.gov/bills/text.php?number=HF3502&version=1&session=ls90&session_year=2018&session_number=0
These provisions are not yet in any active Senate bill.
- Blocking of Nitrogen fertilizer rule; attack on Groundwater Protection Act
Existing Minnesota law gives the state authority to protect groundwater and drinking water. It is called the Groundwater Protection Act and it was passed in 1989 with broad support from both political parties. Contamination from rising nitrate levels is impacting thousands of people and dozens of communities across the state. It is also negatively impacting trout fisheries. Because this is also a growing public health issue, the Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) is proposing a Groundwater Protection Rule that will help communities address rising nitrate levels. Sadly the Legislature is poised to block the rule and MDA’s existing rule making authority. A description of the modest rule and other background information can be found on MNTU’s April 16 blog via this link: http://mntu.org/2018/04/groundwater-2/
The bad provision is currently in at least three House bills and two Senate bills. Links to the bills are listed on MNTU’s Groundwater Protection page at http://mntu.org/groundwater-management/
Governor Dayton has indicated he will veto these. His administration’s letters to the House and Senate are also posted on MNTU’s Groundwater Protection page at: http://mntu.org/groundwater-management/
A wealth of information on the draft nitrogen fertilizer rule can now be found on the Minnesota Department of Agriculture’s website at: https://www.mda.state.mn.us/nfr
The MDA map of vulnerable areas dramatically illustrates why Trout Unlimited should be concerned about this issue: http://www.mda.state.mn.us/chemicals/fertilizers/nutrient-mgmt/nitrogenplan/mitigation/wrpr/wrprpart1/vulnerableareamap.aspx
- Requiring DNR to violate court order on groundwater
The DNR was sued for permitting the withdrawal of too much groundwater near White Bear Lake. After a 20 day trial, with much expert testimony, the judge determined that the DNR had violated numerous statutes and rules by allowing unsustainable groundwater extractions, and had violated its fiduciary duty to protect the public’s right to use White Bear Lake’s water and lakebed. In this 2017 court order the judge imposed requirements and limitations on the DNR to modify groundwater extractions within a 5-mile radius of White Bear Lake.
Several bills direct the DNR to ignore the court’s order and circumvent the protections ordered. This will result in the continued unsustainable depletion of groundwater to the detriment of White Bear Lake. This sets a horrible precedent – requiring the DNR to ignore a court order and continue allowing excessive groundwater pumping. The Legislature should respect the legal process and let it reaches it t conclusion. The provisions are currently found in:
House 3502, sections 102 &103 (lines 83.8 to 83.32): https://www.revisor.mn.gov/bills/text.php?number=HF3502&version=1&session=ls90&session_year=2018&session_number=0
Senate 3141, sections 95 & 96 (lines 71.20 to 72.13): https://www.revisor.mn.gov/bills/text.php?number=SF3141&version=2&session=ls90&session_year=2018&session_number=0
- Exempting water transfers between unconnected waterbodies from MPCA permitting
This provision would allow water from one lake or stream to be pumped into another lake or stream without a water quality permit (and compliance with water quality standards) from the MPCA. Our concern is where the source water contains aquatic invasive species. The provision was drafted to address a situation where the two water bodies were already connected, but the bill language is overly broad and would exempt two previously unconnected water bodies. This provision needs fixing!
House 3502, sections 57 (lines 56.1 to 56.16): https://www.revisor.mn.gov/bills/text.php?number=HF3502&version=1&session=ls90&session_year=2018&session_number=0
Senate 3141, sections 63 (lines 49.17 to 49.32): https://www.revisor.mn.gov/bills/text.php?number=SF3141&version=2&session=ls90&session_year=2018&session_number=0
- Barring enforcement of existing or newly proposed sulfate standard
Volumes could and have been written on this issue. Sulfate plays a key role converting atmospheric mercury into the dangerous form of mercury which makes its way into aquatic life and fish, leading to fish consumption advisories. For decades MN has had a numeric water quality standard for sulfates of 10 mg/L aimed at protecting wild rice, but also benefiting lots of other aquatic life. The standard was approved by the EPA and cannot be changed without an EPA science review process. In 2011the Legislature directed the MPCA to update the existing standard. MPCA developed a new standard which utilizes an equation tailored to the characteristics of each waterbody. A court recently ruled the new standard unworkable, although the science is sound. Bills (HF 3280/SF 2983) would bar the MPCA from enforcing either (any) standard in clear violation of the Clean Water Act.
Read MPCA’s letter of April 9, 2018 explaining the problems with bills HERE
Federal Ballast Water Discharge Bill was Defeated!
Thank you to everyone who contacted US Senators Klobuchar and Smith last week to urge them to protect MN waters from more aquatic invasive species. Both Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Senator Tina Smith (D-MN) voted no on a procedural vote in the U.S. Senate which would have advanced a bill containing a provision known as the Vessel Incidental Discharge Act (VIDA). These would have weakened Clean Water Act protections against aquatic invasive species being introduced into or spread among the Great Lakes via the ballast water of ships. Their votes were vital to defeating the bill containing the bad provisions. The motion to limit debate (cloture) and move the bill along needed 60 votes. It failed 56-42 thanks in part to their votes.