The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) was assigned a citizen petition requesting preparation of an Environmental Assessment Worksheet (EAW) for continued potato field expansions that include forest-to-field conversions, chemical applications and water appropriations in and around the Pineland Sands Area. The petition specifically identified those projects proposed by Mr. Tim Nolte and the R.D. Offutt Company. Mr. Nolte is an agricultural landowner and is not formally associated with the R.D. Offutt Company. Their project proposals are independent of each other.
The DNR considered (1) the content of the petition, (2) additional information known to the DNR, and (3) the rule requirements for Responsible Governmental Units (RGUs) to grant or deny a citizen petition. The DNR has determined that there may be the potential for significant cumulative environmental effects associated with nitrate contamination of groundwater. As a result, the DNR has ordered preparation of an EAW.
Mr. Tim Nolte has three pending permit applications for new water appropriations. In total, the applications seek 98.8 million gallons per year and irrigation of 303 acres of new fields.
Separate from the Mr. Tim Nolte project, The RD Offutt Company has four pending applications for water appropriation permit amendments. These applications were subject to a 2018 citizen petition that was denied by the DNR in May 2019. The small increase in water requested for establishment of cover crops was determined to not materially contribute to nitrate contamination of groundwater. DNR maintains its previous determination that the RD Offutt project does not warrant preparation of an EAW.
In 2015, DNR ordered two discretionary EAWs for similar activities by the RD Offutt Company, though much greater volumes and acreages were proposed at that time. DNR vacated these previous EAW orders after the RD Offutt Company withdrew a majority of its pending water appropriation applications. The DNR subsequently denied a citizen petition for an EAW, largely based on the RD Offutt Company’s significantly reduced request and a proposed interagency special study intended to investigate environmental effects of land conversion and water appropriation in the Pineland Sands Area. The study has not received funding and thus has not supplied the much-needed information to assess these environmental effects.
Many agricultural producers and other sources contribute to elevated nitrates in the Pineland Sands Area. Although Mr. Nolte’s proposed water appropriations constitute the “project” that will be evaluated in this EAW, the cumulative potential effects portion of the assessment will consider all potential sources of nitrates.