Today, the battle about numeric nutrient water quality standards is “on our doorstep in the heart of the MACA region,” reported Mid America CropLife Association’s new water consultant, Steve Taylor.

In his column for the MACA newsletter issued this week, Taylor reported on the issue and pointed to a report from Minnesota that is chilling the blood of many looking at the potential for the Environmental Protection Agency to take new aggressive enforcement and rulemaking under the Clean Water Act. His column is reproduced here:

“On March 13, several environmental groups filed two lawsuits against the EPA. One lawsuit seeks to require EPA to force municipal wastewater treatment plants to make very costly renovations to reduce the amount of nutrients in wastewater. This lawsuit is intended to drive a wedge between our city neighbors and agriculture. And, unfortunately, it is working as they planned. 

“The National Association for Clean Water Agencies (NACWA) released a press release in response to the litigation stating that 'NACWA calls on these organizations to abandon this litigation and join with us to focus our efforts where the impact will be the greatest: on agricultural operations that account for up to 90 percent of the nutrient pollution problem in the Gulf of Mexico.' 

“The other lawsuit is to require EPA to force states in the Mississippi River basin to adopt numeric nutrient water quality standards. This is very similar to the initial lawsuit that was filed in Florida [which has been widely publicized]. 

“On the national policy level, MACA continues to engage these issues through its affiliation with the Agricultural Nutrients Policy Council (ANPC) and the Federal Water Quality Coalition (FWQC). In my discussions with both these groups, I know there is consideration of intervening in this Midwest lawsuit as was done in the Florida lawsuit. 

“On a more 'on-the-ground' level, MACA is engaging this issue in a proactive manner looking at real steps that can be taken as far as reducing nutrient runoff from agricultural fields. Recently, I attended a 'Nutrient Summit" that was hosted by The Fertilizer Institute, the Agricultural Retailers Association, and others. The summit focused on the '4R' program as a way to reduce nutrient runoff while keeping agriculture profitable. More information on the '4R' program can be found at http://www.nutrientstewardship.com/. The summit also provided case studies of programs in states within the MACA region such as Ohio, Illinois and Minnesota. For the latest on what is happening on this issue in Minnesota, [information below is] provided by Bill Bond of the Minnesota Crop Production Retailers. 

“Again, the issue of nutrient management has the potential to affect all of agriculture and all MACA members throughout the region. For this reason, we'll stay on this issue and keep you abreast of the latest.”

Taylor referenced how important happenings in Minnesota are to what might happen in the rest of the nation’s Midwestern states, and all watersheds draining into major rivers throughout the nation.

Bill Bond, Minnesota Crop Production Retailers Association (MCPRA) provided his take on what is occurring around the voluntary Minnesota Agriculture Water Quality Certification program. His explanation follows:

"The agricultural 'certainty' movement was launched January 17, when EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson and USDA Secretary [Tom] Vilsack joined Minnesota Governor [Mark] Dayton and Minnesota Department of Ag (MDA) Commissioner Dave Frederickson to sign a Memo of Understanding (M.O.U.) to develop a voluntary agriculture certification program to be administered by the MDA.

“The MDA is seeking committee members who will provide recommendations to MDA Commissioner Frederickson regarding the development of the Minnesota Agriculture Water Quality Certification, as well as its particular features and focus. The committee will be convened and staffed by MDA, and will serve at Commissioner Frederickson's discretion. The Minnesota Agriculture Water Quality Certification Program has the stated goal of enhancing Minnesota's water quality by accelerating adoption of on-farm water quality practices. This was suggested as a ‘model’ for other states once it is established in Minnesota. Almost everyone in agriculture and the environmental movement is nervous about this program.  

“The ‘certainty’ is the suggestion that a farmer who adopts this yet to be determined certification of BMPs [best management practices] will be given a pass on TMDLs [total maximum daily loads] and other requirements coming forward for the term of the ‘voluntary contract’ IF the farmer's certified practices can be verified by a ‘third party’...which makes CCA's nervous...or is it an opportunity?”

With the kind of water issues that are raising their ugly heads in the states served by MACA—Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota and Wisconsin—it is no wonder that the association needed a well-versed water specialist on retainer.

Taylor provides research and information gathering services directed by MACA in crop protection matters including the U.S. Geological Survey's National Water-Quality Assessment Program (USGS NAWQA) and the Great Lakes Initiative involving Canada and Midwestern states.  In addition, he monitors, reviews and assists MACA with respect to environmental concerns, and helps MACA ag industry members regarding pending state management plans, legislative and executive branch proposals, laws, regulations and/or developments that might affect them.