Advocacy
Calls Needed Monday to Restore Protections for Driftless Trout Fisheries
April 29, 2013
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This past week Senator Matt Schmit’s efforts to protect Driftless area trout fisheries suffered an unexpected setback due to the philosophical differences of legislators whose districts are located far from the affected area (southeast Minnesota).  A senate finance subcommittee removed three commonsense restrictions essential to preserving these world-class coldwater fisheries.  These protections can be restored to Senate File No. 796 by amendments in the full Finance Committee or on the Senate floor, but we need your help for this to happen.  Calls and e mails are needed by Tuesday morning.

Only your calls and letters can turn the tide now.

If restored to SF 796, the protections for SE trout fisheries would be the only substantive protections to emerge from either legislative body this session.  Numerous silica sand mining bills and provisions, including ones calling for a regional impact study and a pause in permitting (moratorium) to allow for the adoption of state standards, have all been stymied by lobbyists and legislators from outside the affected areas of the state.  The remaining provisions do not contain protective standards for southeast MN groundwater and trout streams, and do not give the MNDNR or MPCA authority to adopt such standards.  Now is time to let your senator, Senate leadership and Governor Dayton know that the protective standards proposed by Sen. Schmit must be passed by the Senate and strongly supported by it through the conference committee process.

The DNR has now come out in strong support of the three protective measures.  Commissioner Tom Landwehr provided excellent, passionate testimony in support.  Minnesota Trout Unlimited continues to voice strong support.  However, as was evident Wednesday, those efforts alone can no longer overcome the numerous, well-funded lobbyists opposing substantive protections.  It is up to you and fellow trout anglers to demand action from your elected representatives.

How to help

1.  Contact your Senator

Direct calls and letters to your Senator make a difference.  Legislators regularly meet or “caucus” together to discuss what issues their constituents are most concerned about.  So even if your Senator is not on the relevant committee, your best bet is to let him or her know of your concerns and request he or she press colleagues to vote appropriately.

 

How to locate your state Senator:  Quickly locate and contact legislators by using the District finder tool on the State’s legislative website at: http://www.gis.leg.mn/OpenLayers/districts/

Simply type in your address and you will get a list and links to your representatives.  Then click on your legislator’s name and you will be taken to his or her individual web page.  You can also call the Senate switchboard at:  651-296-0504, or 1-888-234-1112

 

2.  Contact Senate leadership, including Finance Committee Chair

While contacting your Senator is crucial, it also helps to convey your concerns directly to Senator leaders, including Majority Leader Sen. Tom Bakk and Chair of the Senate Finance Committee, Sen. Richard Cohen.

Senator Thomas M. Bakk (DFL). (651) 296-8881 or via this e mail form:  http://www.senate.leg.state.mn.us/members/member_emailform.php?mem_id=1003&ls=

Senator Richard Cohen (DFL); (651) 296-5931 or via this e mail form:  http://www.senate.leg.state.mn.us/members/member_emailform.php?mem_id=1008&ls=

3.  Contact Governor Dayton

Governor Mark Dayton has the ability to influence legislation which he or his agencies feel strongly about.  The DNR supports the coldwater fisheries protections proposed by Sen. Schmit in SF 796.  The Governor needs to hear from you how vital it is that these substantive protections be enacted this session.  Thank him for support ing the DNR’s position, and urge him to do all he can to ensure the three protections ultimately become law.

Call Governor Dayton at 651-201-3400, or toll free at 1-800-657-3717.

E mail him using this form:  http://mn.gov/governor/contact-us/form/

Or contact him via his Facebook page:  https://www.facebook.com/GovMarkDayton

Key points you should consider making:

  • You use and greatly value the world-class  trout fisheries in southeast MN
  • You want your elected representatives to protect these fisheries, your recreation, and thousands of existing jobs
  • Substantive restrictions must be enacted this session which will protect these fisheries, and also provide emerging silica sand mining businesses with a useful “roadmap” for avoiding uncertainty, delay and expense
  • In southeast MN only (the Driftless area or Paleozoic Plateau) these minimum protections are needed:
      • a 5,000 foot setback from springs and trout streams
      • a restriction against operating within 25 feet of the water table
      • greater groundwater conservation measures, such as a million gallon cap per site, are needed to steer businesses to other readily available sources like recycled water, warm surface waters or treated wastewater.
  • Delay will only harm the fisheries, your recreation, and thousands of existing jobs dependent upon the these trout fisheries
  • You expect the Legislature and Governor to find a way to enact these protections this session.

__________________________

Background:

As you know MNTU is not opposed to industrial silica sand mining, but believes that in the unique karst region of southeast MN meaningful minimum restrictions must be placed upon this new activity in order to protect the world-class fisheries found there.

The three restrictions which belong in SF 796

Senate File No. 796 contained three restrictions designed to preserve coldwater fisheries in the southeast corner of Minnesota by steering a new type of activity, industrial scale silica sand mining, away from the vital groundwater.  The interrupted flow of cold groundwater is the lifeblood of our Driftless area trout streams.  The proposed restrictions are:

1.  Silica sand mines may not be located within one mile of any spring, trout stream, or perennial tributary of a trout stream (so that subsurface flows to springs and trout streams are not disrupted);

2.  Mining of silica sand may not be conducted within 25 feet of the water table (to prevent removal of groundwater through construction dewatering); and

3.  No more than 1 million gallons per year of groundwater may be pumped from any single site for washing, sorting or processing industrial silica sand (thereby directing new businesses to readily available alternatives).

Sections 50 and 51 of SF 796 (4th Engrossment) contained these provisions:

https://www.revisor.mn.gov/bills/text.php?number=SF796&version=4&session=ls88&session_year=2013&session_number=0

Details of vote last week

On Tuesday April 23 we learned that several senators on a finance subcommittee (Environment, Economic Development and Agriculture Division) had decided they did not care the protections.  At this point the MNDNR and Governor realized that they needed to weigh in.  Commissioner Tom Landwehr took the relatively rare step of personally appearing, and testifying in support of the restrictions.  Despite his excellent testimony and others’ efforts, a majority of committee members turned a deaf ear and removed the provisions via an oral amendment.  Here is how the senators voted:

Vote to remove the setback

On whether to remove section 50, which would prohibit industrial silica sand mines within one mile of any spring, groundwater seepage area, fen, trout stream, or perennial tributary of a trout stream:

These Senators voted “yes” to remove the setback protection from the bill:

  • Sen. David Tomassoni (DFL)
  • Sen. Tom Saxhaug (DFL)
  • Sen. Carrie Ruud (R),
  • Sen. David  Osmek (R),
  • Sen. Bill Weber (R),
  • Sen. Torrey Westrom (R)
  • Sen. Dan Sparks (DFL)

Voted “no” on motion to remove (supported keeping protections in the bill):

  • Sen. Matt Schmit (DFL)
  • Sen. Kari Dziedzic (DFL)
  • Sen. Foung Hawj ( DFL)
  • Sen. Bev Scalze (DFL)
  • Sen.  Scott Dibble (DFL )

Voted “pass”:

  • Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen (R)

Absent – Sen. Rod Skoe (DFL)

Vote to remove restrictions on water table proximity and high capacity pumping

On whether to remove section 51, which would prohibit issuance of permits to withdraw more than 1 million gallons per year from an individual site (permits are not required for lesser amounts) and prohibit mining silica sand within 25 feet of the water table.

These Senators voted “yes” to remove these fisheries protections from the bill:

  • Sen. David Tomassoni (DFL)
  • Sen. Tom Saxhaug (DFL)
  • Sen. Carrie Ruud (R),
  • Sen. David  Osmek (R),
  • Sen. Bill Weber (R),
  • Sen. Torrey Westrom (R)
  • Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen (R)

Voted “no” on motion to remove (supported keeping protections in the bill):

  • Sen. Matt Schmit (DFL)
  • Sen. Kari Dziedzic (DFL)
  • Sen. Foung Hawj ( DFL)
  • Sen. Bev Scalze (DFL)
  • Sen.  Scott Dibble (DFL )
  • Sen. Dan Sparks (DFL)

Absent – Sen. Rod Skoe (DFL)

Sound basis for setback to prevent disruption of groundwater flow patterns.

Even mines or quarries which stay above the water table can nonetheless disrupt the hydrology of an area and irreversibly impact trout streams.  It is possible in the karst area of southeast MN for mines to alter groundwater and surface water flow patterns, disrupt the recharge of the aquifers, diminish the quantity and timing of groundwater discharges into springs and trout streams, and diminish the quality of nearby fisheries.

Each mine and quarry has the potential to have profound impacts on the local groundwater flow system, water temperatures in nearby springs and streams, and trout populations in those streams.  A MNDNR study of the Big Spring quarry near Harmony, Minnesota in Fillmore County provides a good illustration of how quarries can seriously disrupt groundwater conduit flow paths and cause great environmental harm.  Although the Big Spring quarry is located above the water table, quarrying operations penetrated the conduit system, causing ground water that formerly discharged at the Big Spring on Camp Creek to instead discharge in the quarry. This water either sinks back into the limestone to re-emerge (warmer) at the Big Spring or flows overland to Camp Creek. Dye tracing at the site demonstrated that approximately 90 percent of the ground-water basin is now being routed through the quarry. Without any dewatering occurring, this quarry has permanently altered groundwater flow paths. This water is exposed to thermal impacts and is more vulnerable to pollution from quarrying activities.  Temperature measurements indicate that the Big Spring was 8 degrees Fahrenheit warmer in July than the water that first discharges in the quarry, and the stream flowing out of the quarry to Camp Creek was 17 degrees warmer!   Temperature changes of this magnitude can have significant negative effects on trout populations in nearby streams.

See Hydraulic Impacts of Quarries and Gravel Pits, J.A. Green, J.A. Pavlish, R.G. Merritt, and J.L. Leete, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, Legislative Commission on Minnesota Resources Report, 2005, pp. 53 – 56. http://www.dnr.state.mn.us/publications/waters/quarries_impacts.html

In a telephone conversation with the study’s author, he indicated that the conduit system severed by mining activity was approximately 3,000 feet from the spring!  He also indicated that it was advisable to include an additional safety factor of two thousand feet or more in any setback.  He and other experts have noted that underground conduit systems can be far longer than one mile.  Consequently, a one mile set back from springs, groundwater seeps, trout streams and perennial tributaries of trout streams is well justified and probably adequate to prevent the piracy of vital groundwater flows in most instances.  The DNR supports this setback, but does not have rulemaking authority to develop such a restriction.

Sound basis for restriction on operating too near the water table.

The State currently allows mining and quarrying of industrial silica sand below the water table and the DNR does not have rulemaking authority to develop any restrictions.  If an individual landowner or company chooses to mine sand below the water table (the level corresponding to the top of the uppermost layer of groundwater in an area) then the operation would need to “dewater” the surrounding area.  This entails pumping out all of the groundwater from a large area surrounding the mine site.  Tens or hundreds of millions of gallons of groundwater annually is pulled from a large “cone of depression” in the surrounding aquifer and discharged overland to surface waters – but much warmer and potentially laden with fine silt, sediments and any chemical used in the operations.

Geologists have indicated that restricting mining or quarrying for industrial silica sand within 25 feet of the water table in the Driftless area in far southeast Minnesota should be sufficient in most cases to prevent needless removal of groundwater in this manner.

Sound basis for restricting groundwater pumping to one million gallons per year per site.

Operators often prefer to sort or process sand using groundwater, but there are several alternatives which allow them to operate very profitably.  However, State law essentially gives our groundwater away ($140 for 50,000,000 gallons), creating a disincentive for businesses to use these alternative approaches.  Industry experts have assured us that in areas being targeted for this new industry there are readily available sources of water for processing, including warm surface water, treated wastewater, and recycled water.

Smokescreens and reality.

Some have claimed that the industrial silica sand mining industry already faces many regulations and that existing regulations are adequate to protect trout fisheries.  While there may be several permits required to extract silica sand, there are no uniform setbacks from springs and groundwater dependent resources such as trout streams, and the DNR does not have rulemaking authority to correct this regulatory gap.  Likewise the DNR does not have rulemaking authority to require any buffer from the water table.

Keep in mind that while all the testimony and objections to these fisheries protections come from operators in the Minnesota River Valley, the proposed restrictions do not apply to that area.  Instead the proposed protections are limited to the unique Driftless area (or Paleozoic Plateau), which is home to world-class trout fisheries, where industrial silica sand mining has not yet gotten going.