A little bit of Buffalo Ridge in SW Minnesota (en.wikipedia.org).
by Dan Burns
Jun 19, 2023, 8:00 AM

Is southwest Minnesota among the most polluted places on Earth?

I suppose the answer to that depends on how you look at it. I’m arguing here that essentially yes, it is.

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency evaluates areas of the state’s waters annually on a rotating 10-year basis. You may recall that this was in the news for a (brief) while, back in 2015:

…all of the lakes – and most of the streams – in the state’s southwestern corner are too polluted for swimming or fishing.

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency looked at four watersheds that are part of the Missouri River Basin and found only three streams of the 93 they studied were clean enough to fully support aquatic life. None of the lakes met that standard.

The waters occupy six counties in the southwestern corner of the state. That’s an agricultural region and the MPCA says farming practices are the main culprit behind the sediment, nitrates, and bacteria that are polluting the rivers and lakes.
(Bring Me The News)

There’s no reason whatsoever that when this region’s turn comes around again the data will be any better. Quite the contrary, in fact. (On the whole about 75% of Minnesota’s lakes are OK.)

So, there are sites of relatively limited area, like Hanford, and Chernobyl, and some others, where things are clearly more toxic than is described above. But when you look at the scale of what’s going on in SW MN, it’s hard to come up with a large area that exceeds it. Especially because it’s just part of what’s happening across much of the “corn belt.” Sure, some others, like the oilfields in south Texas, and others around the globe, where people who live there have to drink bottled water because what’s left of the groundwater is so shot, are arguably as bad. But not worse. Wherever the waters are literally poisonous, it’s irrelevant to get hung up on “worse.”

While fixing this will take a long time, the obvious, and not only painless but in fact positive, first step would be to rapidly phase out corn ethanol. The lands taken out of production that way should be put into CRP (which unfortunately for the most part has been going in the wrong direction in recent years).

None of this is likely to happen as long as those who massively profit from it all, namely Big Ag and its cronies, political and otherwise, continue to be held entirely unaccountable. Fixing that is going to take big changes in the makeup of our governance.

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