Farmers Speak Out at Water Quality Rule Change Hearing

Farmers got to have their say at a public hearing regarding the Upper Big Blue NRD's proposed water quality rule changes concerning fertilizer application on Thursday.

Upper Big Blue officials say that limiting the amount of fertilizer farmers can use at certain times of the year and requiring the use of nitrate inhibitors can help stop nitrates from leaching into groundwater.

"We've had increasing nitrates over a long number of years, clear across this district, and we have regulations in place, but we think it's time to go to the next step," says John Turnbull, Upper Big Blue NRD General Manager.

That next step involves several rule changes, including requiring the use of nitrate inhibitors.

York Public Works Director Mark Christiansen says these kind of changes do work, and can keep communities from having to drill new wells or finance treatment systems after contamination occurs.

"We have some wells that have been taken completely out of commission and the farmers have changed some of their practices and in the matter of the last ten years the nitrate levels have dropped significantly," says Christiansen.

But many of the nearly one hundred producers and citizens who came to Thursday's hearing aren't sure these rule changes are the answer.

"I think maybe a little more research needs to be done into the N-Serve or the stabilizer industry to see whether it's really a product that is benefitting us in protecting the groundwater," Dan Baumert of Saronville told the board.

Some argued that best management practices are already making a difference.

"The problems we have were created years ago, we're doing everything we can management wise to reduce the nitrate problems going to our groundwater," says Kris Stengel of Sutton. "We do not want our kids to be drinking this water if it gets over ten parts per million."

"I'm hoping that we can use some of the data we're gathering now and see how things go for a little bit rather than maybe using a little bit of a knee-jerk reaction," says Gary Braun of Henderson.

NRD officials say they'll take the data they've gathered and Thursday's testimony and the board will decide how to proceed during their April meeting.

Turnbull says the hearing record will remain open for written testimony until March 10.

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