Minnesota officials to begin fining unpermitted irrigators

Farm Forum

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) – Starting next month, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources will be able to fine farmers who pump water illegally as much as $20,000 without having to go to court.

The authority was granted by the Legislature last year with a goal of protecting groundwater supplies amid an irrigation boom. It was in response to the agency’s concern that irrigation demand in some parts of the state is more than what aquifers can supply.

Farmers pumping more than 10,000 gallons of water a day or 1 million gallons a year are required to have a permit and report how much they pump annually. The state Department of Natural Resources can restrict irrigation if too much water is being taken, but monitoring is made more difficult by farmers illegally pumping water because their usage is unknown.

The change allows the agency to independently issue civil penalties, and state officials believe higher penalties will motivate farmers to stop pumping water for irrigation illegally, Minnesota Public Radio News ( reported.

“These people were using a public resource to make money, and the advantage to them was so great that they just paid the fine,” said Julie Ekman, the agency’s water resources and conservation manager. The cost, she added, “wasn’t enough to induce them to come into compliance.”

The Department of Natural Resources hopes the new law will help it reach its goal of ensuring every farmer has registered their unpermitted wells.

About a third of the roughly 1,200 irrigation rigs drilled between 2008 and 2012 either lacked a permit or operated without one for a significant amount of time, according to an investigation conducted last year by the publication.

The agency estimates about 2 to 10 percent of the state’s irrigators are operating illegally.