Friday, May 31, 2013

Minnesota Agricultural Water Quality Certification Program Authorized by State Legislature

The Minnesota State Legislature passed and Governor Mark Dayton has signed HF 976, an Omnibus Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture Act, which, among other things, authorizes and funds the state’s new agricultural water quality certification program (also sometimes referred to as an “agriculture certainty program”). The purpose of the water quality certification program is to increase the voluntary implementation of agricultural conservation practices that then should result in water quality improvements in streams and lakes receiving runoff from enrolled farmland. The first-in-the-nation program is a piece of a wider federal strategy that would effectively give farmers "certainty" with respect to water quality regulations if they voluntarily choose to put land conservation practices in place for the benefit of improved water quality. Agricultural producers who implement a significant degree of conservation practices to reduce nutrient run-off and erosion would receive assurance (or "certainty") from Minnesota that their farms will meet the state's water quality standards and goals throughout the duration of the certainty agreement.

A Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) Feedlot Update newsletter released on May 31 stated: “The 2013 Legislature has adopted authorizing language and funded the Agriculture Water Quality Certification Program. The goal of the new state and federal partnership is to enhance Minnesota’s water quality by accelerating the voluntary adoption of on-farm conservation practices. The program is being administered by the Dept. of Agriculture. Operational measures are being developed, and four watersheds are being identified for pilot projects.”

The program resulted from a state-federal collaborative effort among MPCA, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Natural Resource Conservation Service, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and Minnesota's Department of Agriculture, Board of Water and Soil Resources, and Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

EPA and USDA have been exploring a variety of certainty mechanisms in conjunction with several states for some time, and the Minnesota certainty initiative could be viewed as one component of the Obama Administration's draft action plan to address the challenges facing ocean, coastal, and Great Lakes resources, announced by the Administration and reported on here in January 2012. Among other goals, that action plan calls for the "development of State regulatory certainty programs for reducing nutrient and sediment loads that will accelerate the adoption of voluntary conservation efforts" by 2013.   USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack announced the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding and launching of the Minnesota initiative in January 2012.

Here is a link to the bill’s legislative page, where the text of the House- and Senate-passed bill can be accessed. The actual enacted language will be made available online later in the summer.

Brad Redlin, Agricultural Water Quality Certification Program Manager, can be contacted for additional program information (telephone: 651-201-6489;

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