Legislative Summary – Lake, River, and Clean Water Issues – April 10, 2015

Reducing phosphorous and nutrients flowing into lakes and rivers

In his State of the State address on April 9, the Governor reaffirmed his commitment to improve water quality in Minnesota by requiring a 50 foot buffer on all rivers and streams. The Governor told the Legislature:

I am unwilling to wait another year — or longer — for legislation that will significantly improve Minnesota’s water. Some lakes, rivers, and streams all over our state have become dangerously polluted – so bad that fish can’t live in them and people shouldn’t swim in them. One Minnesotan living in a town providing free bottled water to its residents after its water treatment plant malfunctioned, said, “that’s just the way it is, living here.”

I disagree. That should not be “just the way it is,” living anywhere in Minnesota. No one person or industry is responsible for our state’s deteriorating water quality; but every one of us is responsible for improving it.

Conservation Minnesota, along with virtually every other statewide conservation organization in the state, is strongly supporting the Governor’s common sense water quality proposal. Six counties have already implemented buffer compliance programs and have found that by educating landowners on rivers and streams and making technical assistance available, they can achieve 90% compliance rates. The bill does not affect most lakeshore properties, which are covered by existing rules.

To read more about the Governor’s water quality proposal, go here: http://www.dnr.state.mn.us/buffers/index.html

Aquatic Invasive Species

Funding

Conservation Minnesota is opposing attempts to repeal or reduce the new county funding for AIS prevention that was enacted in 2014. The recently released House Omnibus Environment bill (H.F. 846, released April 13) does not repeal the funding, but cuts the amount of funding by 10%. The bill also shifts responsibility for the program to DNR, and requires that counties submit a grant application, creating unnecessary bureaucracy. We will be working to restore full funding to the program and to simplify any DNR oversight of the program. The Senate bill has not yet been released.

AIS trailer decal

A compromise has been reached by stakeholders that replaces the AIS trailer decal with a new requirement of an “AIS Affirmation” for all watercraft licenses (effective Jan. 1, 2016) and non-resident fishing licenses (effective March 1, 2016). There is no fee for the affirmation, but there is a $25 fine for failing to have an AIS affirmation displayed or available for inspection.

Protecting lakes and rivers from plastic microbeads

Legislation to phase out plastic microbeads that are polluting our water has passed all committees in the House and Senate. The current bills are Senate File 674 (Marty) and House File 834 (Uglem) which can be viewed here: https://www.revisor.mn.gov/bills/bill.php?f=SF674&y=2015&ssn=0&b=senate

Both bills would phase out use of plastic microbeads that have been increasingly added to toothpaste and facial scrubs in recent years. These particles do not dissolve in water and are not filtered out by our wastewater treatment systems. They end up in our lakes and rivers, where they absorb toxins such as dioxins and PCBs and are harmful to aquatic organisms that mistake them for food. Scientists are increasingly concerned about the possibility that microbeads are introducing toxic chemicals into the food chain.

The Senate bill is stronger because it ensures that any alternative future “biodegradable” products are ecologically safe and do not create the same problems in our water. Any such products must be proven to actually degrade in the cool conditions of Minnesota’s lakes and rivers. We will be working to pass the Senate version in conference committee.

For more information on plastic microbeads, view the Society of Conservation Biology’s brief in support of a ban here: http://www.conservationminnesota.org/society-of-conservation-biologys-microbead-statement/

Proposed changes to water rulemaking

We are working to oppose proposed changes that would restrict the ability of state agencies to keep our lakes and rivers clean. Unfortunately, the House Omnibus Environment bill includes a number of provisions that are backward steps in protecting our water. The bill:

  • Suspends recently enacted water quality rules on suspended solids and eutrophication (Sec. 121)
  • Suspends implementation of the state’s wild rice water quality standard (Sec. 123)
  • Inserts politics into rule-making by requiring legislative approval of water quality rules and standards (Sec. 90)
  • Requires additional cost analysis and peer review of proposed water quality standards, despite the fact that the Administrative Procedure Act already requires both cost analysis and peer review (Sections 91 and 120)

These provisions would slow down enforcement of clean water standards by adding a new and expensive layer of legislative review over agency decisions.

Water levels and groundwater impacts

The House Omnibus Environment bill includes a $50,000 one-time appropriation to the DNR for a study of the costs of augmenting water levels in White Bear Lake (Sec. 3, Subd. 3) and changes the membership and structure of the Metro Area Water Supply planning committees (Sec. 115). We are monitoring these proposals.

The bill also restricts the DNR’s ability to regulate water appropriation permits by requiring that the DNR must determine that a permit will have a 20% negative impact on the “normal” levels of surface waters in order limit water withdrawals. (Sec. 88) The DNR opposes this provision and we will be working to remove or modify it so that it does not damage efforts to preserve surface waters.