Minnesota River cleanup: Nutrient trading offers solutions

When it comes to cleaning up the Minnesota River, the state and cities along the river have two choices: negotiate or litigate.

We prefer negotiation. The Walz administration would be wise to go with that flow.

Many of the small cities along the Minnesota River face new wastewater pollution standards that would require expensive treatment plant upgrades. In the case of Le Sueur, the estimated cost is $10 million. Already the city has filed for a contested case hearing with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.

The city of Mankato has also been negotiating with the MPCA as well for the last year or so on its own wastewater permit. New standards would call for substantial investments in Mankato as well as dozens of other cities along the river.

The city of Mankato has proposed in a letter to the MPCA to meet the new phosphorus standards if the PCA and the administration are willing to support a wholesale revamping of the regulation process that allows for independent study and nutrient trading.

Legislation sponsored by Sen. Nick Frentz, DFL-Mankato, would set up a commission to study the issue including stakeholders from business, government and agriculture.

We support Mankato’s collaborative approach and the legislation.

Mankato has been a leader in river cleanup. Over the last 20 years the city has operated a collaborative nutrient trading program with cities and businesses along the river in cooperation with the MPCA. The nutrient trading program allowed Mankato to build a more robust wastewater treatment plant that exceeded MPCA standards. The program allowed others to pay Mankato and count that against their requirements for clean wastewater.

As a result, nutrient pollution from point sources has been reduced by 60 percent, according to a letter from Mankato City Manager Pat Hentges to the MPCA.

The new standards that Mankato and others are challenging would largely do away with that nutrient trading program. That would be a loss for the environment, the cities and the state. The city also argues the research done so far does not support the idea that overall river quality will be improve with the new standards or new expensive treatment plants.

Fortunately, the MPCA under the new Walz administration appears amenable to such negotiations.

The city of Mankato proposal for legislation would create a collaborative approach to setting reasonable standards with all stakeholders including farmers, and provide research that shows what results can be achieved with not only changes in urban development but also rural agriculture.

We urge the Walz administration to take up Mankato’s push for research and collaboration in an effort to ensure new standards make a difference in cleaning up the Minnesota River.

— Mankato Free Press