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Water quality issues highlighted at seminar

March 29, 2012
By Jenny Kirk , Marshall Independent

MARSHALL - If there's one thing Minneota farmer Becky Engels took away from a recent issues seminar in Marshall it's that water quality is everyone's concern, not just those in Minnesota agriculture.

"It was very educational for me," said Engels, who serves as secretary/treasurer of the Lyon County Corn and Soybean Growers Association. "I knew farmers were being pinpointed as to blame for the excess sediment going into the rivers, but I hadn't heard a lot about the research."

At the Lyon County seminar for area farmers, Dr. Satish Gupta, a researcher for the Department of Soil, Water and Climate at the University of Minnesota, pointed out what he'd found through his research, including the history of Minnesota lakes and streams.

Gupta's recent research shows that the turbidity in the Minnesota River is caused primarily by erosion of streambanks, which has been occurring for centuries. This counters many accounts that point the finger at agriculture as the major source of sediment in the Minnesota waterways.

"I learned that you can't blame any one segment of society for the water quality," Engels said. "The research showed that a lot of the sediment came from the banks crumbing into the river. It was really interesting."

Using Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) scans, Gupta documented that 56-86 percent of the sediment in the Minnesota River can be traced back to the tributary riverbanks that feed into the river.

"Some of these riverbanks are 150 feet high," he said at the seminar. "They are very steep, not very stable and they slough into the river."

Engels said Gupta showed the group of area farmers aerial photos that dated back to 1935.

"The Minnesota River is much muddier than the Mississippi," Engels said. "As they merge near Shakopee, you can see that they looked the same as they do now. It's been an issue for a long, long time."

Warren Formo, executive director of the Minnesota Ag Water Resource Center (MAWRC), opened the seminar by laying the groundwork for the water quality discussion.

MAWRC is comprised of 16 farm organizations that work together through education to advance the use of scientifically-sound soil and water management practices on farms across Minnesota.

"Since those pictures were taken in 1935, more of the state has been paved over," Engels said. "Farmers have done a lot to control erosion, but obviously, some dirt does come off the fields. But it's not just one segment of society that can say they're to blame."

More importantly, the responsibility for observing and controlling water quality in the state isn't just an agricultural issue, Engels said. Everyone must do their part to improve the water quality.

"(The presenters) stressed that if there is anything you can do, do it," she said. "That's why the public needs to know too."

Engels said she and her family farm approximately 1,200 acres near the Lincoln/Lyon County line. With land that wasn't favorable for farming, the Engels chose to put into wetlands CRP.

"It can't be drained because of the wetland status," Engels said. "It's better for the wildlife. We like seeing wildlife and hunting. As long as there's an opportunity to provide that, we're going to do it."

While the water seminar on March 20 was something brand new for Lyon County farmers, it seems as though the concept has taken off.

Another issues seminar is being planned for late June, with the topic still yet to be determined.



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