On September 8, LWV UMRR Vice-president Lonni McCauley attended the Cover Crop and Soil Health Learning Tour put on by the University of Minnesota in Rushmore in southwestern Minnesota. The tour included water infiltration demonstrations, hands-on activities, cover crop by herbicide demonstrations, research updates, a farmer panel, soil-root pit, and equipment demonstrations. Speakers at the session included: Shannon Osborne, USDA-ARS; Jennifer Hahn, Pheasants Forever; Brian Christianson, USDA-NRCS; John Shea, Nobles Co. SWCD; and Scotty Wells, Gregg Johnson, Jodi DeJong-Hughes, Liz Stahl, Randy Pepin, and Dan Raskin, U of MN Extension. The farmer panel was made up of Bruce Brunk, Bryan Bielger, and Mike Erbes.
Lonni learned that cover crop adoption in Minnesota is not widespread – only 2% of farm land in Minnesota is in cover crops at this time. The University researchers are promoting strip-tilling, which is a hybrid tillage technique between no-till and clear-till. It leaves a 5-inch plowed furrow next to a 7-inch wide cover crop. This technique serves to have ease of planting in the plowed strip and also the advantage of a cover crop to stop soil erosion and water/nutrient loss.
A three-farmer panel discussed their experiences and successes with cover crops. All three farmer panelists indicated they began farming with their dads. They indicated it was hard to persuade their dads to change to cover crops and less than clear-till farming. Only their increased yields on test plots convinced them. The average age of farmers in Minnesota is 57. They are reluctant to change lifelong farming habits.
The demonstration plots show that cover crops can lead to significant improvement in water retention and soil health. The host farmer said his fields now drain almost no water into the culvert in the ditch adjacent to his fields. In this picture, you see Jodi DeJong-Hughes, University of Minnesota Extension, demonstrate four-foot topsoil and the health of the soil after only three years of cover crop/low till practice.
Lonni also reported that alfalfa pellets are being introduced by the U of M as fish food. They take the place of fish-based pellets which are depleting fish populations in the oceans. This will be a boon to the inland fish pond factories springing up in the country and another market for alfalfa. Alfalfa is a perennial crop that requires less inputs and retains soils and water on the farm field.
This program is supported in part from a Conservation Innovation Grant from the USDA-Natural Resource Conservation Service and funding from MN North Central Region-Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education. You can read more about this program here.
Thanks to Lonni for attending this session and assisting with this blog post!
The League of Women Voters Upper Mississippi River Region, in cooperation with 13 other organizations, sponsored a Community Water Conversation at Anoka Ramsey Community College on Tuesday, August 29. About 75 people attended, including members of the public, water professionals and elected officials. This meeting was part of the Governor’s series of meetings with Minnesotans on how to reduce water pollution by 25% by the year 2025.
After opening remarks by Bruce Bomier from the Environmental Resources Council, small groups were asked to identify their top priorities for water quality improvement and how those priorities could be achieved. Reducing pollution and improving storm water practices were top priorities, along with improving environmental literacy and water education. Thoughtful discussions lead to recommendations for action such as increased installation of storm water ponds and rain gardens, and development of water education curriculum for school children.
One small group suggested that Minnesota must “Set firm goals:
Another recommendation in this vein,
“Analyze where, when and who, then increase training and education for water systems and human impact. Example:
Participants also listed barriers to achieving the pollution reduction goals through the actions they had specified. One group listed barriers to taking individual actions to improve water quality:
Insufficient funding and problems with government regulation were also listed as barriers.
All group suggestions and comments were recorded and sent to the Governor’s office for inclusion in the water meetings database. Anna Henderson, Water Advisor to Governor Mark Dayton was at the meeting. According to Henderson, “Governor Dayton wants to hear from every Minnesotan on what water quality goals they want the state to focus on in their region and what they think needs to happen to achieve those goals. The Governor and key members of his Cabinet are travelling all over the state to host town halls, but not everyone can make a town hall or wants to be in such a large setting. That is why it is so important that groups like the League of Women Voters organize their own community water meetings. The room was full and the conversation was energized – it was exciting to be there and clear that people are engaged and full of great ideas. Thank you to the League of Women Voters for hosting this important conversation. It is up to all of us to work to improve Minnesota’s water quality for future generations to come.”
The League of Women Voters Upper Mississippi River Region is a non-partisan organization aimed at protecting and improving water quality in the Mississippi River basin, from the Headwaters at Lake Itasca to southern Illinois. This group is made up of 50 local member Leagues from throughout the basin, plus the state Leagues of Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa and Illinois. Other sponsoring organizations for this meeting included the Anoka Conservation District, the Anoka County Water Task Force, Anoka Ramsey Community College, Izaak Walton League Breckenridge Chapter, Blaine Natural Resources Conservation Board, Conservation Minnesota, Coon Rapids Rotary, Coon Rapids Sustainability Roundtable, Environmental Resources Council, Fridley Environmental Quality and Energy Commission, League of Women Voters ABC, Lower Rum River Water Management Organization and Rice Creek Watershed.
Guest Post by Beth Baranski, LWV Jo Daviess County Illinois
The League of Women Voters' structure and approach allow members to play an instrumental role in efforts to address complex issues. Organized at the local, state, regional, and national levels, League efforts and resources can be scaled up and down as appropriate. With a formal process for studying issues important to voters and coming to consensus before taking action, the League has become widely respected for its non-partisan, fact-based, educational approach.
In Jo Daviess County, Illinois, the local chapter of the League of Women Voters (LWV-JDC) is creating a model that showcases how "The League Way" is working with residents in this rural area on the locally controversial, nationally important, and globally critical topic of water resource management. Here are some highlights:
And the work continues...
Act Now to Protect the Clean Water Rule
With much fanfare, the Trump administration announced in July that it is proposing to rescind EPA's Clean Water Rule, also known as the Waters of the United States (WOTUS) Rule. The infographic to the left shows what this rule was meant to do, clarifying and making consistent application of Clean Water Act protections for water. At a time when nutrient runoff and other water pollution is jeopardizing the health of our rivers, now is not the time to move backward on the Clean Water Rule.
Now is the time to tell the US EPA and Army Corps of Engineers that you OPPOSE going back on protections for wetlands and small streams under the Clean Water Act! The agencies propose to rescind the 2015 Clean Water Rule and to re-codify the prior regulatory text that defined the "waters of the United States." A docket is open for public comments on the proposed rule changes.
Go to regulations.gov to submit your comments. The Docket ID No. is EPA-HQ-OW-2017-0203.
Your own words are best. We suggest covering the following points:
The docket is open until August 28, 2017, with an extension to September 27. THANK YOU for standing up for cleaner water!
LWVUS approved this request for action for LWV Lake Michigan; LWV Upper Mississippi River Region is forwarding it to our members as well.
On May 27, 2015, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) jointly announced a final rule defining the scope of waters protected under the Clean Water Act (CWA). The rule revises regulations that have been in place for more than 25 years. Revisions are being made in light of 2001 and 2006 Supreme Court rulings that interpreted the regulatory scope of the CWA more narrowly than the agencies and lower courts were then doing, and created uncertainty about the appropriate scope of waters protected under the CWA.
According to the agencies, the new rule revises the existing administrative definition of “waters of the United States” consistent with the CWA, legal rulings, the agencies’ expertise and experience, and science concerning the interconnectedness of tributaries, wetlands, and other waters and effects of these connections on the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of downstream waters. Waters that are “jurisdictional” are subject to the multiple regulatory requirements of the CWA. Non-jurisdictional waters are not subject to those requirements.
The League of Women Voters worked to help pass the Clean Water Act (CWA) of 1972 and has continued working to see it strengthened in the decades since. Supreme Court decisions in 2001 and 2006 (the SWANCC and Rapanos decisions) created uncertainty about whether certain waters were covered by the CWA, thwarting regulators' ability to protect those waters. The Army Corps of Engineers and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) drafted a rule to better define the "Waters of the United States," that are subject to the CWA regulations. The rule provides clarity and went into effect in August, 2015.
Subsequently, several lawsuits objecting to the rule were filed by states. The Sixth Circuit Court put a stay on enforcement of the regulation while other lawsuits continue. The standards in the rule have not yet been applied.
Sources used in this article:
All events take place in Itasca State Park: Google map showing park location and Park map showing features
Come and join the Board of LWV Upper Mississippi River Region for this event!
October 1 – Lake Itasca boat tour with naturalist followed by group photo at the Headwaters
Coborn’s Lake Itasca Boat tour: $16/person for a 1.5 hour tour of Lake Itasca, the source of the Mississippi, with narration by a naturalist. We are hoping to have a group of more than 18 persons so we can make a reservation - please contact Gretchen Sabel (email@example.com) if you are planning to come. Meet at the tour boat dock at 1:30pm; boat leaves at 2pm.
Group photo at the Headwaters:
Gather at the marker at 4:30 pm. All are welcome! We will have someone with a camera on hand to take a group photo. Walking across the rocks is an optional activity.
October 2 – LWV UMRR Board meeting in the Joseph Brower visitor center and talk on nitrates in drinking water and their connection to land use
Board Meeting: Gather in the Joseph Brower visitor center (near the east park entrance) at 9:00, meeting will take place from 9:15 to 11:30. (Info on the visitor center here, see #28/33.) Coffee, tea and refreshments will be provided for both events.
Educational Event: We will have Chris Parthun, Principal Planner, from the Minnesota Department of Health and Katie DeSchane from Toxic Taters on hand to talk about nitrates in drinking water and how land use can tip the equation. Park Rapids has had problems with high nitrates as forests are cleared and the land converted to potato farms. We will have a discussion with our speakers and learn what it will take to protect the groundwater resources in this area. Some background reading here and here and here and here. Christopher Parthun, Principal Planner in the Minnesota Department of Health's Drinking Water Protection Section will speak on the state response to increasing nitrates in drinking water.
Workshop led by the University of Minnesota in partnership with The Jo Daviess Conservation Foundation and the League of Women Voters (LWV) - Jo Daviess County, LWV- Upper Mississippi River Region Inter League Organization, LWV- Lake Michigan Region Inter League Organization. With grant funds from 1 Mississippi; an organization supported by The McKnight and Walton Family Foundations.
$20 per person.
Includes morning and afternoon coffee, juice and refreshments, and lunch.
Who should attend?
League of Women Voter members and Rotary Club members from Illinois, Iowa, Wisconsin and Minnesota, staff from conservation land trust organizations, Extension and Sea Grant educators, teachers and informal science educators, and community members from the surrounding area that want to lead water and land conservation education efforts.
About the Watershed Game
The Watershed Game is an interactive tool that helps individuals understand the connection between land use and water quality. Participants learn how a variety of land uses impact water and natural resources, increase their knowledge of best management practices (BMPs), and learn how their choices can prevent adverse impacts. Participants apply plans, practices, and policies that help them achieve a water quality goal for a stream, lake, or river.
The Watershed Game is available in four versions. The Stream, Lake, and River Versions for Local Leaders are used with elected and appointed officials, community leaders, business leaders, and citizens and a Classroom Version for use with middle to high school youth audiences. The Watershed Game is a curriculum and resource developed and published by the University of Minnesota Sea Grant Program and University of Minnesota Extension.
This training will feature:
Objectives of the Train the Trainer Workshop:
Participants can register online at http://z.umn.edu/rockford.
Click here for a workshop flyer
For more information, please contact:
John Bilotta | 612-624-7708 | firstname.lastname@example.org
Bonnie Cox | 815-238-1725 | email@example.com
Mark Borchardt is the DIrector of the Laboratory for Infectious Disease and the Environment, USGS. He has been studying the microbes that contaminate Wisconsin's groundwater, and the impact they have on the health of the people of Wisconsin. He told us that it is important to understand that poop is very political. The two big sources of fecal contamination in water are cows and people, and fecal organisms are found in water throughout Wisconsin. Is this a health risk or a non-issue?
The second marks below can be used to navigate to specific elements of Mark's talk in this summary:
7:30 The Laboratory conducted a study to determine how many people are getting sick from drinking non-chlorinated municipal water. This was the WAHTER study, back in 2007-8. ( Click here for more information. ). They correlated the presence of pathogens in water to the incidence of acute gastrointestinal disease. The incidence of disease far surpasses the ‘allowable’ level of disease due to water borne illness that has been set by US EPA. People who drink water from non-disinfected public water supplies or private wells are much more susceptible to water-borne disease than people whose water is disinfected.
21:00 Based on this study, Wisconsin passed a law requiring all water supplies be disinfected. However, after political change in state government, a law was passed that prohibits DNR from requiring disinfection.
25:00 The septic system at a restaurant in Door County was causing illness. It was a new system; how could this be happening? The answer was that there was a broken seal in the tank that was causing part of the problem, but the other part of the problem was that the bedrock in the area is fractured dolomite which quickly spreads contamination over great distances. Mark's talk tracks the movement of contaminants through the groundwater to neighboring residential wells.
29:40 Kewaunee County still has “brown water events” in the spring and fall that are clearly linked with intestinal disease. Genetic testing has traced the fecal organisms back to both humans and cattle, and this area has a very large number of Combined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs). The cattle-source organisms probably spike when manure is being applied, but the human-source organisms are present year round due to the widespread use of septic systems in the area. ( Click here for more information. In this article, one participant asked whether dispensing less liquid manure would reduce well contamination. “You don’t need a scientist for that one,” Borchardt answered. “If you remove the fecal source, you remove the contamination.” )
Kim Wright is the Executive Director of Midwest Environmental Advocates, based in Madison, Wisconsin. She began her talk by telling us that Wisconsin has been a laboratory for understanding the ‘smaller government’ model and what it means for citizens. When government does not do its job protecting its citizens, organizations like Midwest Environmental Advocates step up to help people. The quote below is a statement of rights - the waters of Wisconsin belong to the people of Wisconsin, and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resoures is to act as trustee protecting these waters for the people.
If we don’t all have fair rules to get into the game, we cannot achieve fair outcomes. The people of Wisconsin have a right to clean water. See WisconinWatch’s Failure at the Faucet: (Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism)
Wisconsin was a leader in implementing regulations when Clean Water Act was passed. Now a legislative audit found that this program is ignoring it’s own rules. When the state does not enforce, it passes on costs to local governments to protect its citizens. Click here for link to audit. Use the second markers below to find specific elements of Kim's talk. (Click here to see Kim's talk on YouTube.)
5:45 Green Bay (the water body) has a deadzone, an area where there is no oxygen, due to the high levels of nutrients that are being discharged here. People sought to place controls on pollutors in the watershed and worked to challenge paper mill permit. A lawsuit was brought, it made its way to the Wisconsin Supreme Court. Supreme Court ruled that no change was needed. So Midwest Environmental Advocates brought this to US EPA’s attention and asked that the states authority to administer Clean Water Act be rescinded. DNR fought this, but MEA kept up the battle, going back to US EPA with a petition on behalf of 16 citizens who are impacted by contaminated groundwater. ( Click here to read more about this.)
16:00 In 2003, Wisconsin legislature removed the ability of local governments to restrict Combined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs, a.k.a. feedlots). This ties back to donations made to politicians. There was a great increase in the number of CAFOs and a decrease in the number of DNR staff to enforce. This was seen in Kewaunee County in northeastern Wisconsin, near Door County where the great number of CAFOs has greatly impacted groundwater. The manure management plans for these farms seemed to be built on imagined possible corn yields, and children have been sickened from the bad water. ( Click here. )
27:00 Wisconsin passed law that basically exempted iron mining from environmental regulation. This threatened the wild rice beds of the Bad River Band of Ojibwe ( Click here. )
30:00 Menomonie – the problem with contaminated lakes full of algae is drastically affecting life in this area. The stench of the algae is unbearable in the summer. ( Click here. )
Kim is hopeful because she sees the people of Wisconsin standing up and organizing. Examples are the Citizen’s Water Lobby Day (link to blog story) which is now organized as Citizen Water Council of Wisconsin, Sustain Rural Wisconsin and the Green Fire group of retired DNR and University of Wisconsin scientists. (Click here for more information on Wisconsin Green Fire; click here for information on Sustain Rural Wisconsin.)
Fishers and Farmers is one of the 19 US Fish and Wildlife Service projects; it works with landowners, NGOs and governments to link landowners, farmers and water users to effectively protect and improve water quality. Use the second markers below to find specific elements of Heidi's talk
8:00 Fishers and Farmers' steering committee goes out and meets with farmers in the project; they organized river boat trips to see the river together. They approach conservation conversations from an agronomic viewpoint.
13:02 – Soil Health is the key. We must get to the root of the problem; building fish habitat is good but if you don’t fix the thing that’s causing fish habitat to be lost the fixes you installed will just wash away. Soil health is essential to keeping soil on the land and clean water in our rivers, streams, lakes and groundwater. Healthy soil increases water-retention capacity.
16:29 – about 15 years ago, LWV Ashland worked with USFW to improve stream water quality in the Bad River Watershed. This was a very successful project and Heidi would love to see this replicated. She also had current examples, including the work that LWV Jo Davies is doing in the Apple Plum watershed. http://watershed.fishersandfarmers.org/apple-plum-watershed/ They have different types of projects in different areas, like oxbow restoration in Iowa and ravine stabilization in Minnesota. Research is being conducted into the efficacy of incorporating strips of prairie land into rowcrops.
27:55 Lessons learned – early adopters suffer from fatigue from implementing change when neighbors don’t. They feel isolated. Peers are among the most powerful influencers of social change. So F&F is working to build trust and build connections in a watershed. They ask conservation staff to arrive as human beings, not as regulators or experts. Landowners and farmers are asked to help solve problems, and their solutions are applied. The goal is to co-create and implement local solutions, to communicate shared vision and hear success. It is also important to support local project managers. The right hand photo below shows the highest leverage points for effecting positive change in a watershed, developed in a Fishers and Farmers workshop.
Howard Learner, Executive Director of the Environmental Law and Policy Institute, was the keynote speaker at the annual meeting. He told us that the Great Lakes states were critical to the election of Donald Trump, and in his first 100 days he has declared war on clean, safe water. 21% of the world’s fresh water supply and drinking water for more than 42 million people are found in the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River. Water quality here is essential. (In this video, Howard Learner is introduced by Dan Breeden from WXOW TV in La Crosse.)
We need to communicate that safe, clean water is not a partisan issue; we need to communicate this to members of Congress, the White House, our state legislatures. It is a basic human right to breath clean air and drink clean water.
Here's a summary of Howard's remarks, check the video at the second marks indicated to watch it.
6:00 What do we need to do to make a difference? First, we need to be here to play to win. We are not fighting the good fight, we are playing to win.
8:30 Facts: To better understand what Trump voters think about water, the Environmental Law and Policy Center hired Ann Selzer from the Des Moines poll to conduct research in key areas of Ohio, Michigan, Illinois, Iowa and Indiana. Focus groups were asked about their priorities in general and about the environment in particular.
12:50 What did we learn from the focus groups? Howard outlined the threats to our clean water regulatory framework from the Trump administration. Why are they doing this? He’s sure they are doing survey work too that shows people don’t’ support these changes. This is an area where we need to fight back and win.
15:30 Pushback on these issues is effective, and needs to be relentless and consistent. Here’s how we can win:
24:50 Trump’s voters don’t agree with the war on water quality that the Trump administration has declared. We will need to litigate cases to fight this war, we need to use new technology to activate people to take action on problems in their neighborhoods and we need to work with state and local allies to push back against the roll back of regulations and the push to tie the hands of environmental regulators.
26:00 What are we going to do about climate change? About 2/3 of Americans believe that climate change is real and are concerned about what it means for them. We need to fight for cleaner energy and cleaner transportation. The Midwest states have already done a lot to reduce air pollution – all states in the ELPC area are way ahead in implementing the Clean Power Plan; both Minnesota and Iowa are already fully in compliance and the rest are making excellent progress more rapidly than required.
30:00 – We are not here to be ‘at the table’, we are not hear to ‘fight the good fight’. We are here to win!
What do you think about Howard's comments? Do you have questions for Howard? Make a comment here!
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