Commentary: Improving Water Quality; We are all in this together

What do residents of urban areas, the business and manufacturing, and the agriculture sector have in common? Each plays a pivotal role in enhancing water quality.

There are two primary sources of water impairment; point and nonpoint. Point source pollution can generally be described as coming from a single, discrete place such as a pipe.

Nonpoint sources refer to both water and air pollution from diffuse sources. It can be difficult to control because it comes from the everyday activities of many different people, such as fertilizing a lawn, using a pesticide or constructing a road or building.

Atmospheric inputs of pollutants into the air can come from multiple sources. Emissions from industrial facilities, generally regarded as a point source, can also be considered as a nonpoint source due to the distributional nature.

Due to the large amount of paved surfaces, urban areas are primary sources of nonpoint source pollution. Asphalt and concrete keep rainwater and water from snowmelt from percolating into the ground. Our roads, sidewalks, driveways, parking lots, swimming pool decks and rooftops – even our automobiles – carry pollutants into the surrounding soil that are absorbed by the watershed.

Typically, in suburban areas, chemicals are used for lawn care. These chemicals can end up in runoff and enter the surrounding environment via storm drains in the city. Since the water in storm drains is not treated before flowing into surrounding water bodies, the chemicals enter the water directly.

Porous pavement allows for rain and storm water to drain into the ground beneath the pavement, reducing the amount of runoff that drains directly into the water body. Restoration methods such as constructing wetlands are also used to slow runoff as well as absorb contamination.

Buffer strips can provide a barrier of grass between impervious paving material such as parking lots and the closest body of water. Retention ponds in drainage areas create an aquatic buffer between runoff pollution and the aquatic environment.

The business and manufacturing sectors also face water quality challenges.

Federal and state laws exist that require permits that place limits on many types of businesses, cities and industries. These laws require that water that from these sources is treated in modern wastewater treatment facilities that remove pollutants from wastewater so that the water is safe enough to put back into nearby rivers and streams.

Wastewater that comes from our homes, businesses, and industry is transported via miles and miles of pipes to wastewater treatment plants. State-of-the-art technology is used to clean the water and insure it meets federal and state water quality standards.

Agricultural practices also account for a percentage of nonpoint source pollution. Exposed soil is more vulnerable to erosion during rainstorms and can increase the amount of fertilizer and pesticides carried into nearby bodies of water.

The agriculture sector recognizes that there is always room for improvement as it continues to build upon its success in addressing water quality issues.

New ideas and technologies are constantly being tested. For example, in Minnesota and Wisconsin, the Green Star Farms Initiative challenges farmers and those who advise them on farming practices to think critically about both agricultural production and resource protection.

Best management practices utilized by farmers and ranchers to prevent the loss of sediments, nutrients, and pesticides from working lands have led to improved water quality, less soil erosion, enhanced soil quality and an increase in wildlife habitat.

Advancements in crop science allow for the matching of farming practices more closely to crop needs, with the end result being a significant reduction in the amount of nutrient and other crop inputs.

Utilization of no-till farming, whereby farmers cultivate crops without tilling their land, prevents soil erosion and dramatically reduces carbon dioxide emissions. It is estimated that no-till farming enabled by effective weed control has already reduced carbon-dioxide emissions by nearly 15 million pounds.

Simply stated, human activities related to different land use and land-management practices have an impact on the water quality of a community. The underlying challenges in addressing water quality are as diverse as the solutions.

It is worth noting that both the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) continue to pursue ill-conceived, regulatory efforts designed to protect Minnesota’s waters.

Further complicating the issue is that many of the new requirements being placed upon our cities, businesses and the agricultural sector are being imposed without following legally-required public input procedures or a full analysis of economic impacts. Left unchecked, these actions will cause wide-spread municipal, manufacturing and agricultural expenditures that are unrelated to actual water quality needs.

The entire state of Minnesota would benefit greatly from scientific peer review via a panel of qualified scientific professionals who are not currently employed by the MPCA or the EPA. The results of these reviews should be made available for public review and comment prior to final action on proposed rules and regulations.

It is not realistic to single out a particular community or sector of the economy. To do so would be unfair, inaccurate and it won’t address the problem. Even if we were to do so, we would still be sending too much pollution into the watershed and it would still be impaired.

Everyone who lives and works in a watershed contributes to the quality of water within that watershed. Everything they do has an impact downstream.

When it comes to improving water quality, we are all in this together.

Dave Ladd is President of RDL & Associates, a government relations and strategic communications firm based in Apple Valley, MN.   He can be reached at daveladd66@gmail.com.

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