Issues Remain for MN Shoreline Buffers


State officials are moving to implement new requirements for setbacks between cropland and waterways passed by the Legislature this year, but concern and confusion among farmers and lawmakers surrounding the new law makes it clear — the buffer battle in Minnesota isn’t over.

Agricultural groups spent months negotiating with Gov. Mark Dayton on his controversial call to boost water quality by installing buffer strips along Minnesota waterways. They eventually passed a scaled-down compromise. The first of those buffers, on public waterways, are required by November of 2017, with smaller strips along public drainage systems coming the following year.

State officials say they’re still working to provide farmers and property owners clear guidance about where they’ll be required to install the grassland zones to filter harmful runoff. That information vacuum — and what little guidance they’ve received — has some lawmakers and farmers worried the state may grab up more land than they bargained for to get the buffer treatment. “I really want this to be successful, but the only way to be successful is if we get good cooperation,” said Republican Rep. Paul Torkelson, a farmer who played a key role in the bill’s negotiations. “We’re not going to get that cooperation if we break our word.”

The state’s Department of Natural Resources and other regulatory bodies are starting to work their way through the law and the state’s massive network of lakes, rivers, streams and drainage systems. The law generally requires 50-foot buffers along public waterways and 16 1/2-foot strips along public ditches.

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