Cities not so sure about farm-runoff pilot

Minnesota’s cities threw an elbow at farmers today, suggesting that a pilot program to encourage farmers to curb water pollution actually leaves cities bearing an unfair burden to clean up rivers.

The pilot program was announced last week by U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, Environmental Protection Agency administrator Lisa P. Jackson and Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton.

Details are uncertain, but its goal is to get farmers to take steps that prevent runoff into the Minnesota and Mississippi rivers.

This debate has gotten contentious. Lots of data shows increases in sediment and pollutants in the rivers, and most scientists point to farm runoff as a main culprit. Farm groups have bridled and argued that more needs to be known before farmers are forced by regulators to take action. (For in depth reporting on this, see our Ground Level project, Cleaning Minnesota’s Water.)

The pilot project would provide help to farmers trying to curb runoff and would also exempt them from new regulations that come down the pike.

That’s the problem the League of Minnesota Cities cites on its website today.

Cities, the League points out, are under constant pressure to upgrade the stormwater and wastewater they send into the rivers:

Our citizens and businesses are regularly required to pay higher rates and taxes to meet these requirements. That problem could become even worse if some farms are able to claim that the plan to clean up a polluted watershed cannot ask them to do anything additional.

Farms, the League says, need to do their fair share.

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