The Minnesota Environmental Quality Board is a coordinating Board for environmental issues that are being addressed by state government. EQB's members include Commissioners from 9 state agencies with environmental responsibilities and 8 citizen members. (Learn more about the EQB at this link.)
Every five years, EQB holds an Environmental Congress, where citizens are invited to meet with EQB members and staff to share their vision and concerns. This Congress was held on December 3 at Minnesota State University in Mankato. The goals of this Environmental Congress were to:* Explore leading science on climate change and what it means for Minnesotans
* Advance mutual learning among community members, state and local leaders, and a broad range of professionals on pressing climate policy issues
* Highlight innovative work taking place across Minnesota
* Create opportunities for dialogue and shared understanding
* Inspire meaningful climate action at the individual, community, and local and state government levels
About 200 people attended the Congress, either in person or virtually. There were many opportunities for discussion among the participants and with the members of the Environmental Quality Board. One highlight was a barn-burner of a speech from Minnesota Governor Tim Walz. In this speech, Governor Walz talked about the need to build infrastructure - roads, bridges, water treatment plants - to meet the threat posed by increased heavy rain events. He cited the sense of cohesion that was around the need for work on climate change in 2008, and said that now, if the federal government is going to move backwards, it's time for the states to step up. You can watch Governor Walz's speech at this link, running from .50 to 1.10 minutes (Walz's introduction begins at .45 minutes)
In the afternoon, attendees convened for the Open Spaces dialogue portion of the Congress. Attendees were invited to host conversations on topics that interested them. The topics were:
· Need for a nation-wide carbon tax
· City level solutions and climate action
· Building resiliency in the conventional agriculture matrix
· Climate and health
· Implications of Line 3 on climate
· Having meaningful discussions with people you disagree with
· How do we elect bold champions for a livable planet
· Natural climate solutions to reach MN’s emissions reductions goals
· Diversity in resilience planning
· How to make mass transit cool
· Greenhouse gas emissions accounting (methods, data)
· How to encourage inter-generational action on climate change
In each session, participants shared information and views on their chosen topics. Each topic was attended by an EQB member. This meeting format allowed for participants to 'set the agenda' for what was discussed. Possible topics were listed and those that got the most 'thumbs up' through the app "Slido" went forward to the Open Space dicussions. More information on the Congress will be coming out from EQB, we will update this post at that time.
The day ended with time for networking among the attendees.
Here's an excellent blog post from the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition. Good reading - many thanks to NSAC!
"The House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis held a hearing last Wednesday, October 30, 2019 to discuss the role of agriculture in identifying and implementing solutions to the climate crisis. This is the first time that the Select Committee has focused on the potential for America’s farmers and ranchers to be a positive force in the nation’s efforts to combat climate change. In this post, we highlight key issues raised during the hearing, and also outline NSAC’s key policy principles for how Congress can help farmers respond to and be part of the solution to the climate crisis...."
An October 31 story in the Minneapolis Star Tribune says, "Railway proposes shipping 500 million gallons of Minnesota water a year to the Southwest. ... [The railway] wants to drill two wells on a 6.2-acre parcel the company owns in Randolph, within a mile of Lake Byllesby in the Cannon River watershed. The wells together would pump up to 6,000 gallons of water per minute, which would double the amount of water that’s currently extracted annually from area wells by farmers and residents.
The water would be shipped by rail to communities near the Colorado River, county officials said. The application says the water would be used for commercial and institutional purposes, though Dakota County Commissioner Mike Slavik said he had heard it was intended for agricultural use in southwestern Colorado."
This troubling withdrawal for which a preliminary permit has been sought could be repeated in water-rich areas across the Midwest. The Great Lakes Compact protects the Great Lakes from water withdrawals, but there is no such compact for the other surface- and ground-water in the Midwest. Is it time for this to change? This excellent blog post by Matt Doll of the Minnesota Environmental Partnership suggests that a compact be formed to protect the waters of the Mississippi Basin and other Midwestern waters from inter-basin transfer. LWV UMRR will provide updates on this project and any progress toward protection in future posts.
The League of Women Voters Park Rapids Area tackled ground water sustainability concerns in their October 24 meeting. Ground water sustainability is a critical issue to people in the Park Rapids area. The City of Park Rapids has had to deal with excess nitrates in one city well. Many rural residents need to buy bottled water for drinking and cooking because of nitrate concerns. Is this the “tip of the iceberg” or are there ways to manage our groundwater that will allow for industry, agriculture and citizens to share this valuable resource? (photo - Park Rapids Enterprise)
Two speakers were on hand for this meeting. The first speaker was Dr. George Kraft, a hydrologist and Professor Emeritus of Water Resources at the University of Wisconsin, Stevens Point. In his thirty years at UW Stevens Point, Dr. Kraft has performed research, advised on policy and doing Extension education on groundwater sustainability issues. His work has concentrated on nitrate pollution of groundwater and drinking water, and how groundwater irrigation pumping has caused a decline in streamflows and lake levels in central Wisconsin. He has published extensively on groundwater concerns, and is sought after as an advisor on scientific and policy workgroups. Dr. Kraft spoke at an LWV UMRR meeting in Stevens Point in April of 2018.
Dr. Kraft’s Park Rapids presentation reflected on his 30 year record of research on how irrigated farming, mainly for potato, other vegetables and field corn have affected groundwater quality and quantity in central Wisconsin. In central Wisconsin, the main issues are extensive nitrate pollution, as over 40 percent of wells in some townships exceed standards, and drying of lakes and streams by unlimited irrigation. This sounds familiar to folks in the Park Rapids area.
Dr. Kraft discussed how politics and a strong industry lobby have stymied even discussing the causes and effects of water challenges, let alone suggesting policies on how to manage them. Though Park Rapids area industry, geography, geology and politics may differ from those that exist in central Wisconsin, that region’s experiences may be a help in advancing more proactive discussion and avoiding pitfalls.
The second speaker was Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Area Hydrologist Darrin Hoverson. Darrin’s responsibilities include surface and groundwater resource management, water resource compliance and regulation as well as providing technical analysis, assistance and information to the public, local and state units of government and other water resource professionals. Having grown up in the Park Rapids area, being an active member of this community and with his 12 years of work at the DNR, Hoverson provides a deep understanding of the area’s natural resources, the community and local issues and concerns. His education includes a Master’s in Water Resources from the University of Wisconsin, Stevens Point, and a Bachelor’s degree in Aquatic Biology from St. Cloud State University.
In his candid and thorough presentation, Hoverson provided a brief history and update on DNR groundwater management efforts within the Pineland Sands & Straight River Groundwater Management Areas, ongoing and future monitoring and groundwater studies and private/public partnerships. He focused on DNR’s roles and authority in ensuring the sustainable use of the region’s groundwater and groundwater dependent resources.
The session was recorded, and is available on You Tube here. There was lively discussion following the presentations, which is included with the video here.
The League of Women Voters Minnesota had a fantastic gala on October 26 to celebrate the First Night of the next 100 years of LWV! Twelve women were honored this night - twelve "firsts". Their stories were inspirational. Here's a sampling of the stories we heard.
The evening started out with inspiring remarks by LWV Minnesota President Laura Helmer, left. In Laura's remarks, she talked about the ongoing need for LWV and the work we live for:
"Organizations that live to be 100 years old only do so because their purpose remains relevant - and the best way to illustrate the ongoing need for League is through sharing the stories of the women who are with us to speak tonight. Because each of these women, only within the last quarter of our century - and many only within the last 2 years! - have become “the first woman” to have a voice at the tables where decisions are made. Our founding president Clara Ueland emphasized, “The hardest lesson… is that it is not safe to leave government in the hands of one man or a group of men, and that one class cannot judge wisely or decide fairly for the whole.” Indeed, women’s voices are still under-represented today - in all sectors of governance. So, tonight’s speakers provide us with the reality that not only is our work still RELEVANT, it’s ESSENTIAL in order to insure that “We the People” means “ALL the people.” Their presence also provides us with true hope for our 2nd Century - because as you’ll hear, we are indeed making great progress toward a more fully inclusive democracy."
Each speaker talked about how they got to be the first in their field. Jennifer Carnahan shared that she was born in Seoul, South Korea, and abandoned by her unknown mother. She was adopted by wonderfully supportive parents in Minnesota, who raised her to not accept limits, citing times when she was told that she would not succeed. "Our dreams can be as big as we want them to be." Jennifer Carnahan is now the first Asian-American to head the Republican Party in Minnesota.
Toni Carter is the first African American to serve on a county board in Minnesota. She brought in a theme that was echoed across the evening - she said, "The important thing about being first is making sure that others are coming behind you." People who break through barriers to be "firsts" must make sure that the way is paved for others who are like them to follow.
Edwina Garcia is the first Latina elected to the Minnesota. She had a difficult father but her mother was strong, and taught young Edwina to believe in herself and stand up for what she believed. She believed that she could achieve, was encouraged by white mentors and teachers. She said, "To run for elected office, you have to have an ego big and tough enough that you can set it in the middle of the road and every dog and cat comes and [urinates] on it."
Maria Regan Gonzales, first Latina Mayor in Minnesota, echoed the need to make sure that others like you follow and step up.
Koahly Her, one of two Hmong American women elected to the Minnesota House in 2018 talked about the importance of LWV registering voters on campuses and at naturalization ceremonies. She also talked about the noticeable difference at the Capitol when men's rights were discussed versus women's rights.
Patricia Torres Rey, first Latina elected to the Minnesota Senate, said that the role of LWV is to wake up women in MN to vote, to run, to work with LWV. Now there are only two women of color in the MN Senate. We need to get reinvigorated to turn this around!
Anne McKeig is the first Native woman on the Minnesota Supreme Court, and on any Supreme Court in the US. She shared the story of when US Supreme Court Justice Sonja Sotomayor came to Minnesota and asked to visit Judge McKeig. Justice Sotomayor said she feels it is her duty to increase diversity on the Federal Bench.
Kim Norton, first woman mayor of Rochester, talked about how the skills she learned in LWV has helped her in her political life. The work that LWV does, to help women gain skills and confidence to run for office, has helped many to step up to leadership.
Guest post by Matt Doll, Minnesota Environmental Partnership – (@mattjdoll)
So far, 2019 has seen Minnesota’s skies break monthly precipitation records across the board, Given the soggy first weeks of October, it seems quite plausible that it will be the rainiest year we’ve ever recorded. While perhaps less visible than the wildfires in western states and provinces, these heavy rains – to which climate change is a strong contributing factor – have major consequences.
Among the most detrimental impacts of these rains are those faced by farmers. Wet fall conditions make crops difficult and more expensive to harvest and dry. And heavy moisture in the spring requires many farmers to delay planting, feeding into the vicious cycle.
Changing precipitation patterns are one of many problems hammering Minnesota farmers, who make up the nation’s fifth-largest agricultural economy. Farm incomes in Minnesota have been historically low for several years now in spite of a relatively strong domestic economy due to a variety of factors, including trade shocks and the loss of small and medium sized farmers and the dominance of a few large agribusiness companies.
The latter factor was a point of frustration at a recent forum in Madison, Wisconsin, where the United States Secretary of Agriculture said: “In America, the big get bigger and the small go out,” apparently signifying that the federal government will do little or nothing to prevent further consolidation. (For a strong rebuttal to this attitude, check out Johanna Rupprecht’s recent blog on the Land Stewardship Project website.)
This is not to say that farmers are victims of impartial forces. This crisis is a consequence of policy choices, of a system set up to maximize production of a few crops and generate profits for large companies. This same system is the reason that the water in many areas of Minnesota is increasingly dangerous to drink, the reason that pollinators and birds are rapidly declining, and the same reason that agriculture is one of the top three contributors to Minnesota’s greenhouse gas emissions.
It doesn’t have to be this way.
Climate impacts will continue to mount, but if Minnesota builds the political will, we can cut our emissions and give farmers the tools they need to weather this crisis – in some cases, doing both with the same tool, while also cleaning up Minnesota’s waters and reducing the demand for pesticides.
Similarly, perennial crops, which stay on the land year-round, fulfill similar ecological functions. Perennials like Kernza® root themselves deeply into the soil, absorbing massive volumes of water and carbon and keeping soil healthy, while providing a crop that farmers can sell. Kernza and other perennials are especially helpful in areas where groundwater is especially vulnerable to contamination, and legislation has been introduced at the Capitol to help bring more of them to those areas.
However, the solution isn’t as simple – or as top-down – as wishfully informing farmers about these crops. With low and declining profit margins, many farmers who would otherwise like to adopt these crops can’t afford to implement a new technique or take a risk with something new. That’s why it’s critical that these parts of the equation are also addressed.
As a state that has frequently seen ourselves on the edge of cutting-edge biological science, Minnesota must renew our investment in developing profitable conservation crops and farming techniques that address the hazards of heavy rains. We need to fully fund programs like the Forever Green Initiative at the University of Minnesota to make sure these crops are viable for market, and that the markets are ready to buy and use them. And we need to provide farmers with the financial support they need to make the transition.
The systems change we need goes beyond these crops, however. We need to ensure that Minnesota’s agricultural policies are working for family farmers, not just large companies. One step is to restore the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency’s Citizen Board, a recently-abolished watchdog that had the authority to deny permits for factory farms and other projects when it deemed them harmful to the surrounding community.
We can fix carbon emissions and agricultural pollution while helping farmers endure – and thrive – amidst weather extremes exacerbated by the climate crisis. Minnesota helped launch the original Green Revolution, and we need to now continue working to create the next generation of multi-benefit conservation crops to address today’s challenges.
LWV UMRR Blog Editor Note: We thank Matt Doll for this excellent article, published on the Minnesota Environmental Partnership at this link. LWV UMRR has been working with other Minnesota non-profits to support Kernza research and market development.
Datelien TREMPEALEAU, Wisc. — As another difficult farm year shifts into harvest mode, a farmers’ round table is scheduled to talk through the current situation and how farmers can help each other.
The lightly facilitated discussion will take place on Monday, Nov. 11, 2019 at the Village of Trempealeau Community Hall, 24455 Third St., Trempealeau, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Please RSVP for lunch to firstname.lastname@example.org or call Erik at 507-796-0152. A free will donation will be accepted to help cover costs.
The event is being organized by the Sustainable Farming Association/Driftless Chapter, the Izaak Walton League/ Upper Mississippi River Initiative, and a group of concerned citizens who held a similar round table in Winona this past Spring. The success of that event combined with ongoing farm challenges spurred the group to host a Fall event.
Additional sponsors include the Dairy Grazing Apprenticeship Project, League of Women Voters/Upper Mississippi River Region-Interleague Organization, Minnesota State College Southeast, and University of Minnesota Extension.
Participants at last Spring’s event said that farmers need to talk to each other more to avoid a “lone wolf” feeling in the face of typical farm concerns, let along the bigger issues of policy, unusual weather, trade, or who will take over come retirement.
“Farmers know plenty, and sitting them around a table together, even for one day, might make a connection that eases some of the distress of a difficult year,” said Erik Harris, secretary of SFA/Driftless. Harris said that conversations will be built around several questions that arose during the first event. “We can’t expect good food and clean water if our farming community itself doesn’t feel strong,” he said.
In a second demonstration, Dr. Eells showed that water drains much more quickly through soil with healthy roots and microbes. This is important because ti allows the soil to dry enough for planting, but retains just the right amount of water to nurture the seeds that are planted. Water lays on the tilled soil, leading land owners to think that the land needs more drainage, when what is actually needed is more roots and microbes, and less tillage.
In a test of the water than runs through both soils, Dr. Eels and her lovely assistants showed that water that passed through the healthy soil had a nitrate level of only 2 ppm; while the tilled soil could not retain nitrate resulting in a level of 50 ppm in that water. The 'safe' level for nitrate in drinking water is 10 ppm.
Dr. Jean Eells is an advocate for advancing conservation practices and improving natural resources management by women land owners. She has a Ph.D. in agricultural education from Iowa State University and operates E Resources Group LLC.
LWV UMRR was very fortunate to have Dr. Eells at our meeting on October 7, and we thank her greatly for sharing her message with us.
|LWV Upper Mississippi River Region||