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Fecal coliform is one pollution source

Sources are many in watershed

By Janet Kubat Willette

jkubat@agrinews.com

FARIBAULT, Minn. -- A bicycle lay on its side in the muck at the river bottom, a tire bobbed in some brush and garbage clogged the banks of the Straight River near downtown Faribault.

However, what isn't visible could harm those who recreate in the region's waters. Several streams, rivers and lakes in the Cannon River Watershed are listed in violation of federal and state water quality standards for fecal coliform bacteria, an indicator of pathogens.

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Fecal coliform bacteria, one of many pollution sources, was discussed last week at a Cannon River Summit.

Anytime runoff occurs from a feedlot to a water body, a chance for contamination exists, said Dave Wall of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. Old manure storage basins on top of fractured bedrock are also risks for contaminating ground water, as are unpermitted basins in other parts of the state.

Slope of land, grass buffers, soil conservation practices, the distance to water, and tiling or drainage practices are factors that influence pollution, Wall said.

Size, age and location of feedlots are important to consider when looking at pollution sources, said Steele County feedlot officer Dan Vermilyea. Also, species, housing, manure storage and storage capacity, the type of manure produced and how manure is applied should be considered.

Educating producers is key is stopping pollution from feedlots, he said.

Managed grazing can help some producers reduce pollution. Howard Moechnig of the Natural Resources Conservation Service said managed grazing decreases runoff, builds soil, increases soil infiltration and causes little compaction. Animals are also more likely to eat than stand in one spot because there is always grass.

Wall said confining manure in concrete basins or exposing it to sunlight before hauling also helps stop the spread of fecal coliform bacteria.

Water pollution can also be traced to people. Water used by humans can be polluted with pathogens, nutrients, heavy metals, cleaners and medications. Unused antibiotics flushed down the drain can kill beneficial bacteria in septic systems.

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Extension educator Ken Olson, who specializes in on-site sewage treatment, estimates that statewide 45 percent to 50 percent of individual septic tanks are non-compliant with state code.

One farmer accused the speakers of focusing too much on livestock as the culprit behind all fecal contamination.

"I just can't see why you guys are picking on farmers," he said.

Another farmer answered him, saying he came to the meeting to understand the problem and discover how everyone could work together to find a solution.

No solutions were crafted at the meeting, but a few groups spoke about projects to clean up water pollution at the county level.

Faribault County is working on non-compliant rural septic systems, Fillmore County stresses low-cost feedlot fixes and several county feedlot officers throughout southeast Minnesota are working with farmers to sign them up for the open lot agreement provision of the 7020 feedlot rules.

Minnesota Pollution Control Agency staff also mentioned increased efforts at the state level. MPCA is increasing its monitoring of construction sites in an effort to control erosion and sediment movement.

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