“Industrial facilities dumped 226 million pounds of toxic chemicals into American waterways in 2010,” according to Environment Minnesota, which marked World Water Day Thursday by releasing a new report, Wasting our Waterways 2012: Toxic Industrial Pollution and the Unfulfilled Promise of the Clean Water Act. Our own Mississippi River came in second to the Ohio River in the race for the dubious distinction of most toxic discharges. The Environment Minnesota press release summarized some of the findings for Minnesota:
Along its course in Minnesota, 703,019 pounds of toxic chemicals were dumped by industrial facilities into the Mississippi River, and 47,619 pounds were dumped into the Blue Earth River. Of the 35,800 pounds dumped into the Rainy River, 700 pounds were carcinogens. Other major dumping included 31,071 pounds into the Red Lake River, and 16,216 pounds into the Red River.
Environment Minnesota warns that copper-nickel mining proposed for northern Minnesota poses a potential danger, as “hard-rock mines of this sort are major polluters across the country.”
I grew up on the Crow River, which is designated as the Wild, Scenic and Recreational North Fork Crow River. Some 18 years ago, a big ag operation proposed to build ten giant metal barns and raise half a million turkeys a year just about 900 feet uphill from the Crow River. Some of us were concerned about issues of manure storage and disposal, surface water run-off, groundwater pollution due to a low water table, etc. We fought the proposal. The turkeys won.
Eighteen years later, I see white turkey feathers frosting the gravel shoulders for miles along MN Highway 24 several months of the year. My best guess is that they drift out of trucks carrying caged turkeys to be butchered. Last summer there was a partial washout on the gravel road between the turkey farms and the river. The photo at left shows the washout and the culvert that runs under the road and empties directly above the river. The photo at the top of the article shows the Crow River.
What’s the quality of the Wild and Scenic Crow River today? I don’t know. I do know that all of our lakes and streams are at risk — from toxic discharges, from mercury contamination of lakes (and fish) caused largely by burning coal, from sedimentation and fertilizer run-off.
Republican Presidential candidates have debated the appropriate role of the Environmental Protection Agency – and even whether the EPA is necessary. … They have argued that environmental regulations are incompatible with economic growth, and attacked public investments in renewable energy. …
The endangered species all of us should care most about is “the moderate Republican.” Visit their natural habitat in Congress and you’ll have a hard time spotting one! …
A comprehensive approach to environmental health will invest in species and habitat protection and target the nonpoint source pollution that threatens our lakes and rivers …
What to do
Environment Minnesota has some tough recommendations:
- Pollution Prevention: Industrial facilities should reduce their toxic discharges to waterways by switching from hazardous chemicals to safer alternatives.
- Protect all waters: The Obama administration should finalize guidelines and conduct a rulemaking to clarify that the Clean Water Act applies to all of our waterways – including the nearly 47,000 miles, or around half of streams in Minnesota for which jurisdiction under the Clean Water Act has been called into question as a result of two polluter-driven Supreme Court decisions in the last decade.
- Tough permitting and enforcement: EPA and Minnesota’s state agencies should issue permits with tough, numeric limits for each type of pollution discharged, ratchet down those limits over time, and enforce those limits with credible penalties.
Those sound right to me. But there’s more that individuals can do, right now in Minnesota.
- Many farmers are already working to preserve the land and water. They need more legislative support, not the evisceration of programs that help them pay for soil and water conservation.
- The just-launched Minnesota Agriculture Water Quality Certification Program, the only one of its kind in the country, is looking for advisory committee members. The program, launched with support from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Environmental Protection Agency, will recognize and support farmers whose voluntary practices protect and improve water quality.
- The Department of Natural Resources relies on volunteers to track the health of lakes and streams. DNR provides “simple equipment” to measure water clarity, one of the indicators of the health of lakes and streams. To become a volunteer or learn more about the program, visit the MPCA’s website, or call 651-296-6300 (Twin Cities) or 800-657-3864 (Greater Minnesota).
- Somebody stencils the storm drains, picks up the trash along the river banks, and looks out for the health of the mighty Mississippi. You, too, could be a Friend of the Mississippi!
And finally, back to McColllum’s speech:
As environmental and energy experts, you need to be talking to your friends and neighbors and arming them with accurate information. The biggest vote this year on the environment will happen in November – not in Congress but in every community in the country.