Environment Minnesota
MN 2020
Akilah Sanders-Reed

The MPCA recently announced new construction permitting to reduce harmful construction site runoff into our waterways. This is just one of many on-going oversight measure the state environmental agency is taking. Late last month, the agency also released a comprehensive report showing "elevated nitrate levels, particularly in southern parts of the state. Studies show that nitrate in surface water is toxic to fish and the aquatic life food chain and nitrate in drinking water is potentially harmful to humans," the MPCA finds. The report says croplands account for 70 of the source.

Environment Minnesota initiated a petition asking the Dayton administration and other policymakers to limit runoff pollution from large industrial agriculture, citing pollution levels from the MPCA report. The National Climate Assessment draft also specifically identified agricultural run-off as a source of increasing pollution.

The surfaces of residential plots, construction sites, and industrial agriculture fields are all seasoned with potential harmful chemicals, from fertilizers to car oil. Storm-water ferries these chemicals straight into our lakes and rivers; some goes into our drinking water supply, while some can travel as far as the Gulf of Mexico, contributing the expanding dead zone there.

This pollution system’s engine is the rainfall that overwhelms the ground’s capacity to absorb it, and becomes runoff, the vehicle for nitrates and manure. Unfortunately, the engine is just getting revved up: intense thunderstorms in Minnesota are now twice as likely as they were 100 years ago, and projected to continue to get more severe in coming years.

Political malcontent has distracted us from the evidence directly in front of us: storms are already more localized and more severe than they were a hundred years ago. The storms we’ve seen the last few years are consistent with scientific predictions that expect these “precipitation events” to continue becoming regular parts of our lives. Although mitigating carbon pollution is important, of equal urgency is being ready for the changes we have already committed to.

Groups like the Capitol Region Watershed District have begun promoting water education and solutions, such as rain gardens, to retain storm-water and reduce pollution. Simple things like increased permeable surfaces, clean driveways, and clear storm-drains can reduce the pollutants being fast-tracked into our waterways.

Intense rainfall will continue to be prevalent in our lives as Twin Cities residents, and we can expect to see more news and controversies about the pollution it drives. Simple neighborhood measures can help put slow the flow, and keep our waters clean.