Note: In April 2023, the Land Stewardship Project joined 10 other groups in filing a petition calling on the Environmental Protection Agency to use its emergency authority under the Safe Drinking Water Act to address the fact that nitrate contamination is causing “an imminent and substantial endangerment to public health” in the karst region of southeastern Minnesota — Dodge, Fillmore, Goodhue, Houston, Mower, Olmsted, Wabasha, and Winona counties. In response, in early November the EPA requested that the Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDH), the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA), and the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH develop a plan for dealing with the nitrate pollution issue and provide safe drinking water to residents with wells above the maximum contaminant level. Earlier this month, the state agencies responded to the EPA request with a work plan to address the issue. Last week, LSP, along with several allies, submitted a letter to the MDA, MPCA, and MDH calling for a work plan process that fully engages input from the people most impacted by nitrate pollution in the karst region: the people who live in southeastern Minnesota. The letter from LSP and its allies, which is presented below, lays out several action steps. For more information, contact LSP organizer Martin Moore via e-mail. or at our office in Lewiston (507-523-3366).
Monday, Dec. 11, 2023
Brooke Cunningham, M.D., Commissioner
Minnesota Department of Health
Katrina Kessler, Commissioner
Minnesota Pollution Control Agency
Thom Petersen, Commissioner
Minnesota Department of Agriculture
Dear Commissioners Cunningham, Kessler, and Petersen,
As you know, on Friday, December 1st, the state agencies you lead submitted a work plan to the EPA outlining next steps in addressing nitrate contamination in southeastern Minnesota.
We are encouraged to see state agencies taking additional steps to mitigate this issue. In the Environmental Protection Agency’s response, it was noted that state agencies are currently in the process of “discussing how to conduct stakeholder engagement with an array of partners… beginning this winter.” Given the Land Stewardship Project’s (LSP) extensive membership/stakeholder base in southeastern Minnesota, and state agencies’ current discussions on this topic, LSP, on behalf of the undersigned petitioner organizations, proposes the following actions be taken as part of a robust and effective engagement campaign. Under your leadership as agency commissioners, we hope you will include these action steps in the final engagement campaign.
Elements of an Effective Stakeholder Engagement Campaign:
1. Clear goals, outcomes, and evaluations of the nitrate reduction programs already in place.
The December 1st response to the EPA listed several nitrate reduction programs already in place throughout the state. Unfortunately, the response did not include additional information regarding the measured efficacy of those programs nor any details on the ultimate end-goals of each program. This is critical information for the public to know. If this information is currently unknown, prompt action needs to be taken to gather and report findings from these initiatives.
2. Quarterly meetings between state agencies and petitioner organizations.
Among our respective membership bases, the 11 petitioner organizations represent a broad swath of Driftless Area Minnesotans. Each group also provides diverse areas of expertise and an intimate working knowledge of the April petition and water quality problems in southeastern Minnesota more generally. We believe this knowledgebase would be invaluable to your planning process, making for a robust analysis of the issue and a thorough plan of action that would have the intended effects we all desire. We look forward to opportunities to collaborate and strengthen each other’s work.
3. Three in-person meetings, led by state agencies, throughout southeastern Minnesota before April 2024 to inform the public about ongoing work and to gather feedback.
State agencies need to be present and proactive in their engagement with the public. As the people and communities facing nitrate contamination every day, it is critical that the residents of southeastern Minnesota are central to developments moving forward. Community members should be able to meet in-person with state agencies to have their voices heard and to be notified of progress.
4. State agencies meet with at least 20 farmers in southeastern Minnesota before February 2024 to gather ideas on how state agencies can create solutions, rather than burdens, for area farmers.
Our region’s farmers are the solution to cleaning up our region’s drinking water. For generations, hundreds, if not thousands, of innovative southeastern Minnesota farmers have implemented a wide array of agricultural practices that keep our water clean and our soils intact. Unfortunately, large-scale economic and policy factors are increasingly making this kind of agriculture less able to remain economically viable. It is imperative that any proposed solutions do not reinforce harmful farming practices and systems in our region. Our public agencies must also support the kinds of innovative, regenerative farming practices that can offer long-term solutions to this problem. Southeastern Minnesota farmers must play a foundational role in this work. We propose that your agencies meet with farmers that represent a diverse background of farming operations present within the region. The Land Stewardship Project would be happy to arrange these meetings. At least 50% of farmers/farms engaged with should meet at least one of the following criteria:
- Feedlot under 250 AU.
- Acreage under 1,000 acres.
- Implementing systems involving perennial forage/permanent pasture/rotational grazing.
- Utilizing multiple known soil health practices such as no-till, cover cropping, diversified crop rotations (3 crops or more), etc.
In the coming days, we plan to seek more input from our members in the Driftless Area. We will keep you updated on their responses. We look forward to collaborating with you and our state agencies to mitigate this critical issue. To contact us, please write to Martin Moore and Sean Carroll at, respectively, email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.
Land Stewardship Project
Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy
Environmental Working Group
Minnesota Well Owners Organization
Center for Food Safety
Food & Water Watch
Izaak Walton League – Minnesota Division
Minnesota Trout Unlimited
Debra Shore, Regional Administrator & Great Lakes National Program Manager email@example.com
Office of Governor Tim Walz & Lt. Governor Peggy Flanagan, attn: Joe Birkholz firstname.lastname@example.org
Paul Gardner, Clean Water Council Administrator