August 27, 2019

A Cap-and-Trade System to Cure Minnesota’s Agricultural Drainage Decision-Making

Zach Sibley


Farmers across the U.S. Midwest share a common enemy—standing water on their fields. To maximize the agricultural potential of their fertile lands and leverage economies of scale, public drainage systems have emerged over the past century as the ubiquitous weapon in this fight. The laws governing these systems share in that history. These laws, however, reflect a one-directional process: increase drainage and farmable land.  Now Minnesota’s increased public drainage imperils the state’s downstream land, crops, and water resources. From the downstream landowner’s perspective, these laws mean more frequent flooding resulting in eroded bluffs and banks, increased deposit of debris on downstream lands and lakebeds, and drowned farmland.

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