Serving Minnesota and Northern Iowa.

Comments sought on nutrient reduction strategy

By Janet Kubat Willette

Date Modified: 10/25/2013 12:58 PM

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ST. PAUL — Comments will be accepted on the draft Minnesota Nutrient Reduction Strategy through Dec. 18.

The draft was released Oct. 7 and discussed that day at a hearing of the House Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture Finance Committee.

Rebecca Flood, assistant commissioner of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, told the committee comments received during the comment period will be incorporated into the strategy as it advances.

Flood reviewed the draft strategy, emphasizing that the goal of the state's Nutrient Reduction Strategy is to reduce, not eliminate, hypoxia in the Gulf of Mexico.

A U.S. Environmental Protection Agency focus on statewide nutrient reduction planning was a key driving force behind the development of Minnesota's strategy, Flood said, as was the state's involvement in the Mississippi River Gulf of Mexico Watershed Nutrient Task Force.

"In the past decade, nutrient issues downstream of Minnesota have reached critical levels, including the effect of nutrients in the Gulf of Mexico, which resulted in a dead zone; eutrophication issues in Lake Winnipeg and algal blooms in the Great Lakes," the report reads. "Several state-level initiatives and actions highlighted the need for a statewide strategy that ties separate, but related, activities together to further our progress in making nutrient reductions."

The Minnesota Nutrient Reduction Strategy is the statewide strategy guide to reduce the amount of phosphorus and nitrogen in the state's three major water basins: Mississippi River, Lake Winnipeg and Lake Superior.

The nitrogen and phosphorus reduction goal for the Mississippi River Basin is 45 percent from average 1980-96 conditions.

The goal for the Lake Winnipeg basin, which includes the Rainy and Red River watersheds, is a 10 percent reduction in phosphorus levels from 2003 conditions and a 13 percent reduction in nitrogen from 2003 conditions.

For the Lake Superior basin, the goal is to maintain 1979 conditions for phosphorus. The nitrogen reduction goal calls for the continued implementation of specific nutrient management programs.

The draft strategy establishes milestones as interim measures of progress, Flood said.

For the Mississippi River basin, the first milestone is a 35 percent reduction of phosphorus from the baseline. For nitrogen, it's a 20 percent reduction from the baseline. The goal is to achieve both milestones by 2025.

The draft says 73 percent of the nitrogen and 40 percent of the phosphorus are from agricultural sources.

In order to reach the nutrient reduction goals, Flood said there must be an increase in agricultural best management practice adoption and other nutrient-reducing activities. There also must be wastewater treatment. As new research is conducted, additional BMPs and treatment options are expected to be incorporated into the strategy, she said.

One of those emerging ideas is the Minnesota Agricultural Water Quality Certification Program. This program, now being piloted in four watersheds in Minnesota, seeks to certify farmers who are doing everything they can to protect water quality.

Other ideas are to track industry-led BMP implementation, develop markets that use perennial crops and explore a nutrient focused crop yield insurance program.