Thursday, September 10, 2015

R.D. Offutt reduces number of irrigation applications

DNR announces new study

R.D. Offutt Co. (RDO), a North Dakota-based agriculture company, has voluntarily reduced the number of new water appropriation permit applications on file with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

At one time, RDO had 54 preliminary notifications and/or groundwater appropriation permit applications pending with the DNR. It has now withdrawn all but five groundwater appropriation permit applications for new irrigated crop production sites in Minnesota's Pineland Sands area, located in Becker, Cass, Hubbard, and Wadena counties.

The DNR was concerned with potential impacts to groundwater and surface water associated with the proposed expansion of irrigated crop production in the Pineland Sands area. Many of the parcels in question had been in commercial timber production, and the DNR was also concerned with effects from land use conversion.

As a result, in February of this year, DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr ordered a discretionary environmental assessment worksheet (EAW) to evaluate the potential impacts of RDO's proposed groundwater appropriations. 

Following this order, DNR and RDO officials met several times to discuss the EAW process and the scope of the company's applications and preliminary notifications. These discussions resulted in RDO voluntarily reducing its permit applications to five. This reduction to five applications has eliminated the need for a discretionary EAW.

The DNR will evaluate RDO's remaining five groundwater appropriation applications using its established permitting process. This evaluation process will ensure the DNR's decisions on these five applications will be consistent with sustainable use of groundwater in the area. 

"Given the number and locations of the remaining permit applications, we are confident that we can fully understand and evaluate the potential impacts through our permit process," said DNR Assistant Commissioner Barb Naramore. "An EAW on these applications would not appreciably inform our decisions."

The DNR remains concerned with the broader implications of increased irrigated crop production in the Pineland Sands and needs better information for future permitting decisions in certain parts of the area. Therefore, the DNR is proposing a special study of groundwater use and land use change in the Pineland Sands area. The special study will focus on several key areas within the Pineland Sands where anticipated irrigation applications and potential impacts are greatest.

The DNR will conduct this study in collaboration with the Minnesota departments of Agriculture and Health and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. RDO will also support data collection for the study. The DNR will seek legislative support for the special study in the 2016 session.

"This special study will substantially advance our understanding of how land conversion and increased irrigation may affect the sensitive resources of the Pineland Sands," Naramore said.  "This is information we will need in the future, and the special study is the best way to get at these questions."

Keith McGovern, CEO of R.D. Offutt Co., expressed support for the study. "Our company has a long and deep history of implementing best management practices and sustainable farming, and we look forward to working with the various state agencies to better understand the land and help preserve our quality of life."

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