The Debate about Farm Nitrates and Drinking Water

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Stoel Rives attorney Mark Hanson coauthored, with Andrew Keller, Michael A. Boland and Bill Lazarus of the University of Minnesota, an article for the publication Choices titled “The Debate about Farm Nitrates and Drinking Water.” The article discusses the impacts of an increasing number of citizen lawsuits filed under federal laws by community groups and municipalities aiming to restrict the use of manure and fertilizers that elevate nitrate concentrations in water supplies.

Nitrates can be a byproduct of the use of nitrogen as a nutrient to grow crop plants and can move with groundwater in the soil, contributing to the pollution of lakes, rivers and streams. The authors discuss a number of cases filed recently seeking relief from the courts for nitrate concentrations exceeding drinking water standards with an intended outcome of convincing courts to assess nitrate liability to farmers and restrict farming operations.

The authors also address the effects on farmers of these cases: Farming practices are commonly considered to exempt from regulation under the Federal Water Pollution Control Act, known as the Clean Water Act, but in several cases common livestock waste and fertilizer practices have been reviewed in light of federal regulations and judged subject to clean water objectives. “Restricting crop nutrients and holding farmers liable for nitrates that leave the farm may negatively impact crop yields,” they write. “Consequently, it is valuable to proactively consider possible policy alternatives in light of the court’s findings.”

Read ”The Debate about Farm Nitrates and Drinking Water” (PDF), published 1st Quarter 2016 in Choices, a publication of the Agricultural & Applied Economics Association.

Key Contributors

Mark J. Hanson
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