2017 Semifinalist
Winners:
State of Minnesota
January 1, 2017
Jurisdiction:
Minnesota

All Minnesotans want clean water, but for too long policy debates over nonpoint agricultural pollution often devolved into finger-pointing and yielded few results. What was clear was that farmers want to be certain the regulatory goalposts will not shift and the public wants to be certain the state’s water quality is improving. The Minnesota Water Quality Certification Program (MAWQCP) was designed to achieve real results for water quality by providing the regulatory certainty farmers need and the assurance the public demands. In January 2012, the State of Minnesota and the federal government announced a partnership to develop a program to accelerate the voluntary adoption of on-farm practices that protect water quality. From its outset, the Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA), in consultation with an advisory committee of diverse stakeholders, sought to design a program that systematically identified and remedied every source of on-farm nonpoint pollution and recognized and rewarded farmers who were doing their part to protect water quality. The MAWQCP was established into state law in 2013, began pilot operations in 2014, and went statewide on July 1, 2015. Agricultural conservation is traditionally delivered locally, so the MAWQCP partnered with Minnesota’s 89 soil and water conservation districts to deliver the program, and has pioneered a new model of conservation delivery that works on a field-by-field, whole-farm basis to identify and mitigate agricultural risks to water quality. Once a farm has mitigated all its risks to water quality, it is eligible to become certified and sign a contract with the state. The certification contract states the certified farmer will be in compliance with any new state water laws or rules for 10 years. Through the contract, farmers receive the regulatory certainty they need to make long-term decisions and the general public is assured that farmers are managing their operations to protect and improve water quality.

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