Dip your paddle into Lake Crystal on some muggy afternoon, and it will return lathered in a soupy green slime. Each summer, algae sludge forms a thick seal on the water's surface.
Children have been warned away: Touching or breathing in the foul-smelling toxin could bring on vomiting, rash, and liver damage.
There are no more swimmable lakes in southwestern Minnesota, a 1,783-square-mile stretch that spans six counties. Dangerous levels of phosphorous, nitrogen, and bacteria like E. Coli will take decades to clean up, says the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. The problem extends along our southern border, where rampant pollution threatens the safety of drinking water.
Legislators hem and haw about potential causes. The science isn't so mealy-mouthed: The bulk of the pollution is from factory farms and fertilizer runoff.
"What they're doing, it isn't farming, says Sonja Trom Eayrs, who grew up on her family's farm in Dodge County. "It's manufacturing."
Minnesota's water quality — our state's greatest natural asset — has become a sacrificial lamb to Big Ag.
The industry has rapidly but quietly taken control of the state legislature, affixing Minnesota with a new slogan: the Land of 9,000 Lakes and 1,000 Cesspools. Protective agencies are being stripped of power, while ag groups are commanding the purse strings of public funds.
Bigger. Faster. More.
Trom Eayrs is at war with her neighbors.
Her family has farmed a fertile slice of God's country an hour south of the Twin Cities since the 1800s. Trom Eayrs's great-grandfather built the 10-pew Lutheran church in Westfield Township in 1917.
Lowell Trom, the 86-year-old patriarch, has plowed, planted, and harvested his fields for 73 years, though the tractor cab is now climate controlled and can run on autopilot with a GPS system.
Lowell doesn't use it. It beeps at him, goading him to abdicate control as he steers down rows of soybeans in waiting. "If you want to quit, you might as well lay down and kick the bucket and get it over with," he says.
The Trom family isn't interested in quitting.