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Town hall meetings on water quality a real priorityTown hall meetings on water quality a real priority

Northstar Notes: Misinformation and lack of understanding of current farm practices are widespread.

September 6, 2017

3 Min Read
BE THERE: Attending a town hall meeting to discuss Gov. Mark Dayton's "25 by '25" water quality initiative will benefit you and your business, as you and the other individuals present explain to each other why and how water is important to life and livelihood.

Living in a metro county, I was glad to hear that there would be a town hall meeting held locally to discuss Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton’s "25 by '25" water quality initiative.

I attended the meeting sponsored by League of Women Voters Upper Mississippi Region at the Anoka Ramsey Community College in Coon Rapids, Minn. The organization partnered with other groups in the area, including the Anoka Soil and Water Conservation District, to host the event.

Around 100 people showed up. As we checked in, we were asked to sit at tables with six people each, including a moderator. We were instructed to discuss three questions: 1. What are the major issues with water quality? 2. What can be done about them? and 3. What are the road blocks to getting them done?

First, we listened to guest speaker Bruce Bomier, an epidemiologist by profession and chairman of the Environmental Resources Council. He gave some background on the EPA and various federal and state projects that were funded to improve water quality. He also made an interesting observation about farmers’ reaction to Dayton’s decision to protect water quality. According to Bomier, when the governor approached farmers and explained the importance of protecting water quality, Dayton got “almost a standing ovation” from farmers.

I was intrigued by his comment, but didn’t have the opportunity to explore it further as we were instructed to work on our three questions. I know most farmers for decades have been following conservation practices that were touted as preserving our natural resources. And those practices continue to evolve today and include best management practices as well. So possibly farmers were happy that all Minnesota residents would be called upon to help protect our waters?

Ag still a ‘problem’
In my small group, as we discussed the first question on water quality, farming practices immediately came up. Keep in mind we’re in Anoka County, Minn. As of the last USDA census in 2012, we had fewer than 400 farms — mostly in the business of producing Christmas trees, vegetables and sod.

I pointed out to my tablemates that we were asked to focus on solutions specific to our county. Farming is not big here, given urban sprawl. Well, I was told, our rivers and streams are impacted by what is going on north of our county, so we cannot exclude ag.

We continued to discuss more encompassing topics such as educating residents about water quality and water conservation. When agriculture came up, I tried to explain about science-based agronomic and irrigation practices. We also talked about the buffer law and the Minnesota Ag Water Quality Certification Program, the latter of which my group had heard about but didn’t know what it was. We delved only a bit into truly local water issues. And as our table moderator recorded answers to the suggested questions based on our group majority, none were specific to our county. Rather, they were general in nature.

I share this because it continues to remain vital that farmers attend the remaining 25 by '25 town halls. Others need to have you explain how your business is managed to protect our state’s waters.

Here is a list of the remaining meetings.

• St. Cloud, Minn.: 4-5:30 p.m. today, St. Cloud Technical and Community College, Northway Building, Room 1-155

• Ely, Minn.: 6:30-8:30 p.m. Sept. 12, Grand Ely Lodge, 400 N. Pioneer Road

• Bemidji, Minn. 4-5:30 p.m. Sept. 13, Bemidji State University, Hobson Memorial Union, Crying Wolf Room

• Minneapolis: 6:30-8:30 p.m. Sept. 27, Glover Sudduth Center for Economic Development and Urban Affairs, Community Room, 2100 Plymouth Ave N.

• Burnsville, Minn.: 6:30-8:30 p.m. Oct. 4, Diamondhead Education Center, 200 Burnsville Parkway, #100

• Stillwater, Minn.: 6:30-8:30 p.m. Oct. 5, Stillwater Area High School, 5701 Stillwater Blvd N.

Unable to attend a town hall? Summit your comments at the Minnesota Environmental Quality Board's 25 by '25 webpage.

For more information, visit MEQB's attend a town hall webpage.

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