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MN DNR increases fines for unpermitted irrigation wells

The drought in California may seem like a truly foreign topic for Minnesota farmers. After all, we are the Land of 10,000 Lakes, it says so right on our license plates, our farmers would never have to experience such a drought with all that water.

Maybe, but maybe not. Minnesota has see-sawed back and forth between drought periods over the last few years, and a even if they avoid a ground-cracking drought like that in West, a dry spell during a crucial time in a crop's development can cost a farmer hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not an entire crop.

So, in many parts of the state, farmers use a backup system of irrigation from groundwater wells. These wells must have permits from the State of Minnesota if they draw more than 10,000 gallons a day, or 1 million gallons within a year.

Regulation is necessary because many of these wells draw their water from common aquifers and during a severe drought, with thousands of wells extracting water every day, those aquifers could be in jeopardy of running dry.

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources now has authority to fine violators who are operating unpermitted wells up to $20,000 without suing the farmer. Before the new law as passed, the DNR had to prosecute the matter as a criminal charge.

The previous fines were inadequate to induce compliance, as the value of the crop often far exceeded the cost of a fine, making the fines a minor cost of doing business.

The DNR estimates between 2 and 10 percent of wells are violation the permit requirement, but one report places it at more than 25 percent. Last year saw a 40 percent jump in permit requests, so the DNR is hopeful there would be fewer violations.

Nonetheless, farmers need to be aware of the broad scope of the agricultural and environmental laws and regulations that blanket their industry, and recognize that civil and criminal penalties are available for violations of many of these regulations.

Source:, "DNR readies stiff fines for farmers caught illegally pumping water," May 27, 2105

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