I was dumping corn at the local grain elevator and talking to Jonas, the guy running the augers and conveyor belts that put the corn in the right bin. “You know, farmers aren’t all to blame for the water problems. You have to think about all those people in town fertilizing their lawns, the golf courses, the stormwater and the industrial runoff!”
Many farmers feel like they’re unfairly called out as the industry at fault for causing massive, toxic algal blooms and dead zones in lakes, streams, and the Gulf of Mexico; blamed for the runoff of fertilizers that causes massive bursts in plant and algae growth. This rapid growth can choke out other groups of plants and the decomposition of all the excess plant matter by microbes uses up all the oxygen, literally choking out fish, bugs, and other organisms that live in or use the water.
There is no doubt that agricultural activities contribute significantly to these environmental issues, and that efforts to mitigate the delivery of excess fertilizers, pesticides, and soil particles to our water sources need to be continued and expanded. Farmers are uniquely positioned to make changes to vast swaths of land in the American Midwest and reduce the pollution of water resources we all benefit from.
Citizens of rural Minnesota less frequently have to be concerned with high concentrations of harmful industrial pollutants. Waters in metropolitan areas are becoming more polluted with chlorides, byproducts of road de-icing, and although infrequently detected, the products of industrial solvents, refrigerants, and chemicals used to create products like waterproof fabrics, non-stick pans, and other modern conveniences, can be found in the groundwater of a number of urban areas in the state. These chemicals pose a threat to the utility of the affected groundwater sources, but are carefully monitored in test wells and municipal drinking water processing pipelines.
Our lifestyles and occupations, no matter where we live, affect resources that are important to us all. Across the state, we all bear responsibility for the quality of water that we use and hope is useful for future generations of Minnesotans.
The State of Minnesota monitors and reports on water quality through the efforts of multiple agencies including the Department of Health, Department of Natural Resources, Department of Agricultural, and Pollution Control Agency. A great introduction to Minnesota water quality can be found here, and you can learn about water quality in your area via an interactive map here.