Ag Water Quality Advisory Council holds first meeting
By Janet Kubat Willette
Date Modified: 08/13/2012 12:56 PM
ST. PAUL — Natural Resources Conservation Service Chief Dave White assured members of the Ag Water Quality Advisory Committee that while their task is huge, it isn't impossible.
White spoke at the group's initial meeting July 9 in St. Paul.
Commissioner Dave Frederickson opened the meeting and then turned it over to White, who gave examples of ranchers out west who are working proactively to improve habitat for the sage grouse in hopes of preventing the bird from being listed as threatened or endangered.
The sage grouse is found in 11 states, White said, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will decide in 2015 if the bird is to be listed as threatened or endangered.
The ranchers, with the support of government agencies and non-governmental organizations, are working to make the bird's habitat so swell that its numbers will recover and it won't be on either list, White said.
The effort started three years ago and uses science to target the sage grouse's preferred area. White said 75 percent of the birds are in 25 percent of the area. This is the area were efforts are concentrated.
The good news is the efforts are beneficial not only for the sage grouse, but also for cows and ranchers, he said.
His fear is that without a proactive approach, ranching as it is known would be gone.
Minnesota is taking that same proactive approach when it comes to water quality, White said. It is the first state to move into the water quality arena in this way.
Minnesota's efforts will be watched throughout the nation, he said.
The state's effort, led by the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, is getting off on the right foot with the support of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources and Gov. Mark Dayton, White said.
"I think Commissioner (Dave) Frederickson has really put together an outstanding group of people," he said.
The water quality issues in Minnesota won't be solved in an hour with a few commercial breaks, White said, but they can be solved and he believes voluntary, incentive-based conservation is the way to address environmental issues.
The certainty concept that is attached to the effort gives farmers the certainty that once they meet an environmental standard, they will be free from further regulation related to that issue for a set period of time.
White emphasized that agriculture and the environment can coexist in harmony several times during his presentation, said committee member Beth Croteau-Kallestad, executive director of the Cannon River Watershed Partnership.
Assistant commissioner Matt Wohlman provided background information about the process that led to the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding with Environmental Protection Agency administrator Lisa Jackson and USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack up through the formation of the stakeholder committee, said Brad Redlin, who's managing the certification program for MDA.
In the afternoon, the 15-member advisory committee worked with facilitator David Minge to set up the committee infrastructure, Redlin said.
They also spent time getting to know one another, Croteau-Kallestad said.
They talked about what they need to know, what questions they want to answer and what a certification program will look like. They have an ambitious timeline, with a goal of delivering their recommendations to Frederickson by early November.
Their next meeting is 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. July 30 in the fifth floor conference room of the Veterans Service Building, 20 West 12th St., St. Paul. The meeting is open to the public.
The work begins at this meeting, Redlin said. Committee members will hear a report from a subcommittee of the NRCS State Technical Committee chaired by Don Baloun, Minnesota NRCS chief, and Warren Formo, executive director of the Minnesota Water Resources Council, and then the discussion will begin.