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Looking back on a life of local environmental activism

Ron Moir, 83, is proud of his efforts to preserve water quality at both West Battle and Clitherall lakes. He also worked with state and federal agencies to limit chemical farming between the two lakes. Tom Hintgen/FOCUS

Most people want to do their part in protecting land and water, to leave this world better than the way they found it. Such is the case with Ron Moir, 83, who has cherished summer days and nights near West Battle and Clitherall lakes.

Moir, a native of Breckenridge, worked in the computer field and was a consultant in the Twin Cities for the state of Minnesota when he retired in 1985. He and his wife, Kathleen, have enjoyed many summers at West Battle Lake in Otter Tail County.

In 1996, Moir became concerned with chemical irrigation farming between West Battle and Clitherall lakes. He was especially concerned with irrigation pesticide drift, the result of aerial spraying.

"I decided I needed to take a stand. The objective was not just about me," said Moir. "I was concerned for other property owners and people walking along a township road, in addition to adverse effects on the land and water."

Moir solicited the help of neighbors. Some brought up the subject of blowing soil from an irrigated potato field. Others expressed concern over ground water contamination.

With Moir taking the lead, exhibits were submitted to the Minnesota State Environmental Quality Board. Moir provided maps that showed the general path of the fly zone (aerial spraying) that affected property owners.

A petition by lake area residents cited adverse environmental effects due to the farming practices. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources became the lead agency involved with the petition.

"We filed three citation petitions," said Moir, "and the DNR did extensive investigations."

The DNR findings cited adverse effects for groundwater quality, surface water quality, air quality, and concerns about fish spawning areas in West Battle Lake, wildlife habitat and other effects on property owners.

An Environmental Assessment Worksheet was the result of the petitions by Moir and his neighbors. Joining the investigation was the U.S. Department of Agriculture. There was a 30-day review of the worksheet's findings, with public input taken by the state and federal agencies.

The company that performed the irrigation and other farm practices saw the writing on the wall. They ceased their work in the affected areas of West Battle and Clitherall lakes, admitting that input from area residents "was very valid" and played a major role in their decision to end the aerial spraying and other practices.

"There are better ways to grow corn, beans and potatoes," said Moir.

Looking back, Moir says he and his neighbors know they made the right decisions. Protection of the land and water was the prudent thing to do, he said.