DNR determines EIS not required for Nolte Family Irrigation Project

June 18, 2020

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has concluded that the Nolte Family Irrigation Project in Wadena County does not require preparation of an environmental impact statement (EIS). The justification for this determination is contained in a Record of Decision that followed DNR’s completion of an environmental assessment worksheet (EAW).

Timothy Nolte proposes to convert 303 acres of formerly privately owned and managed timberland to irrigated agriculture for livestock grazing and commodity/staple crop production. The majority of the land is currently used for non-irrigated crop production and livestock grazing. The project would involve removing remaining standing timber and associated stumps, cultivating the land, and operating three groundwater-supplied center pivot irrigation systems.

In April 2019, the DNR ordered the preparation of an EAW in response to a public petition. As provided under the Minnesota Environmental Protection Act (MEPA), the DNR prepared the EAW to assess whether the project presented the potential for significant environmental effects. The analysis considered:

  • the type, extent, and reversibility of environmental effects;
  • the potential for cumulative environmental effects;
  • whether any environmental effects were subject to ongoing regulatory authority; and
  • the extent to which environmental effects can be anticipated and controlled as a result of other available environmental studies

The DNR has determined that all potential environmental effects from the proposed project are minimal in nature or can be managed through ongoing regulatory authority. Given this determination, the DNR is not ordering preparation of an EIS.

“We have found that the Nolte project does not have the potential for significant environmental effects and therefore does not warrant the preparation of an EIS,” said DNR Assistant Commissioner Jess Richards.

The proposed project is located within a larger area of the state known as the Pineland Sands. This part of the state, characterized by sandy soils, has experienced significant conversion of forested areas to other uses and an increase in agricultural irrigation, resulting in concerns about the potential for cumulative impacts to the environment. The EAW indicates that the proposed Nolte project would have a smaller zone of effect and would not influence the larger Pineland Sands area.

“The DNR remains concerned about environmental effects, specifically groundwater impacts, associated with the loss of forest lands and increased irrigation in the Pineland Sands area. We are evaluating options for addressing these concerns going forward,” said Richards.

The DNR decision followed a thorough environmental review process, including interagency coordination with Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, the Minnesota Department of Agriculture and the Minnesota Department of Health. The decision was informed by more than 150 individual public comments and results of an aquifer test.

If permitted, the proposed Nolte project would be required to implement mitigation measures to manage nitrogen fertilizer and pesticide use, and to ensure the pumping would not impact nearby wells and surface waters. The project would be regulated through multiple ongoing authorities. Mitigation measures implemented through these authorities would minimize the project’s potential to transfer nitrates and other constituents to the environment and ensure that any potential cumulative impacts would be minimal.

Under Minnesota Environmental Quality Board rules, the DNR’s decision ends the state environmental review process for the project. The project can now proceed to decisions on required permits and other approvals.

Additional information, including decision details about the proposed project and the DNR’s review process are available on the project page.