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Farmers, lawmakers, leaders set to talk about MN's 'critical' water issues

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The quality of Minnesota's waters will be picked apart and examined as leaders and community members from around the state gather Saturday for the first ever Governor's Water Summit.

Gov. Mark Dayton announced plans for the summit last fall, saying he was concerned about "critical" water quality problems facing the state.

“My father believed – as I believe – that stewardship is a profound responsibility of each of us. To take what we have been given – or have acquired – and leave it in better condition for those who will inherit from us,” Dayton said in the announcement.

“This is everyone’s challenge, and everyone’s responsibility.”

What problems exactly?

There are issues with waters around the state, though some regions are facing significantly more of a challenge than others.

Many of the lakes and streams in southwest Minnesota are unsafe for both people and fish to swim, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) reported last in 2014.

Another report found it would take roughly 30 years to undo the pollution damage done to streams and rivers in the most heavily farmed areas of the state.

But Dayton – and other reports – say it’s not just farming practices that are causing water issues. Another report found that even the state’s most remote rivers and streams are contaminated. Yet another found the health of many of the state’s wetlands are troublesome.

What will happen at the summit

Taking part in the summit will be water quality experts, farmers, legislators, regulators, the business community, members of the public, local leaders, and others, according to the governor's office.

The goal is to bring together all people who are impacted by – and who are themselves impacting – the water quality to talk about solutions.

Topics including invasive species, sustaining the water supply, water in urban and rural environments, clean water, and more is on the docket.

Portions of it will be live streamed here. They'll also be using the hashtag #MNWaterSummit to tweet updates.

Minnesota's groundwaters

Minnesota residents get 75 percent of their drinking water from groundwater, the agency says.

This week, ahead of the summit, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency reiterated its recent findings about groundwater contamination, and the ways it wants to address issues.

The Groundwater Protection Recommendations Report runs through a list of problems – the presence of nitrates or chloride, viruses, the presence of pesticides, etc. etc. – describes the issue, and then goes into what it would like to see done.

So for example: A 2014 report found that, in agricultural areas, it's "common" to have shallow groundwater that exceeds the recommended amount of nitrates or nitrites.

In the Central Sand Plains region (which includes Benton, Cass, Crow Wing, Hubbard, Morrison, Stearns, Todd and Wadena counties), a 2014 survey found 59 percent of the groundwater samples had too-high levels of nitrates or nitrites.

In the east-central region of the state, 44 percent tested too high.

To help stop the presence of those contaminants from growing, the Pollution Control Agency suggests addressing the use of manure and fertilizer on farms, by implementing best practices for their use, encouraging alternatives, and getting local farmers and officials to cooperate.

The report then runs through a similar step-by-step with other contiminants.

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