Chance to talk water with Gov. Dayton

Published 8:00 am Friday, July 28, 2017

By Justin Hanson

Fields, Rivers and Streams

Minnesota’s governor needs to hear from you.

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Gov. Mark Dayton is coming Monday, July 31, to the Rochester Community and Technical College’s Heintz Commons for a town hall event on his “25 by ’25” water-quality goal. The event will run from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at RCTC, 1926 Collegeview Road SE.

This is all about the governor’s initiative to spur collaboration and action to improve Minnesota’s water quality 25 percent by 2025. Dayton is hosting a series of town halls this summer and fall to gather input from Minnesotans.

Austin-area farmer Tom Cotter — one of two Cover Crop Champion farmers this year with Mower Soil & Water Conservation District — will be one of the speakers at the event. Cotter will talk about the benefits of cover crops and soil health practices on his farm.

Southeast Minnesota has a great message to share and influence future state policy regarding water. It’s important that your message is articulated to the governor, his staff and the decisionmakers who travel with him.

In recent years, we have seen a policy shift toward conservation measures and limitations on land use to benefit clean water. This has been met across the state with varying levels of support and concern.

A prime example is the state buffer law proposed in 2015 and eventually signed into law. The governor came out strong for a law that instituted agricultural opportunities on sensitive land directly adjacent to streams. This elevated the discussion into a debate that went on for multiple legislative sessions and resulted in frustration on both sides of the issue.

To me, it seems that policy is best driven by the people whom it serves.

Monday night’s town hall is an opportunity for locals to take part in driving Minnesota’s water discussion, particularly how we want the next generation of conservation policy to look.

There is no doubt that our area has water-resource challenges. Our streams have been degraded and impaired due to excess runoff reaching our surface waters. We also have groundwater concerns from leaching nitrate.

I feel that we all value a constructive strategy for addressing these issues. It’s important that we have an engaged community discussion to ensure that the methods used are the ones that fit best in our community, backyard and fields.

We particularly need to hear from the ag community. Right now, urban runoff controls are more regulated than ever. Local cities also are needing to make significant infrastructure changes to reduce the amount of excess phosphorus being discharged into local rivers.

Yet, we hear much more about the needs from the ag community. To many, this feels like a big target has been put directly on their back. This has resulted in a defensive position from many of our ag partners and groups.

I would like to challenge ag folks to engage in the discussion and offer up examples of how agriculture can be part of the solution to our water-resource issues rather than the reason for them.

Southeast Minnesota has been a leader around the state for buffer compliance. Mower County had nearly 95% compliance along public waterways before the buffer law took shape.

The region also is a leader in the state’s Minnesota Agricultural Water Quality Certification Program, also known as Ag Certainty. This certification process recognizes elite conservation efforts on ag land. Mower County has a number of these great landowners who have not yet become certified.

We hope to have more of those individuals come forward and get certified through the program. We’ve also seen thousands of Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) acres going in, and great pockets of landowners willing to work on cutting-edge study areas.

Soil health has been an important topic for our local growers and ag landowners. This is an initiative driven by the ag community with a focus on productivity first. Water quality is the byproduct of healthy land management.

We are lucky to live in an area with a strong conservation ethic and good adoption of conservation practices. Yet, we still have issues.

Monday night is a great opportunity to have an open dialogue about barriers and the limiting factors to reaching local water-resource goals.

There are plenty of people in our community with concerns or ideas about what is keeping Minnesota from reaching its water-quality goals. A vast majority of our citizens also value our local water resources.

Let’s come together on Monday and talk about solutions and limitations. I know I’m looking forward to the discussion and what hopefully will be a strong showing from our area.

Mower SWCD provides technical assistance to landowners with conservation practices that protect land and water resources. SWCD also performs the duties of the Cedar River Watershed District to improve water quality and reduce flooding. This monthly column by Mower SWCD/CRWD typically runs the last Thursday of each month. More information is available on the Mower SWCD and CRWD websites and Facebook pages. Questions and comments can be sent to