Dennis Anderson: Minnesota Buffer Law

Star Tribune:

While Republicans in the Legislature again take aim at the state’s new stream-and-ditch buffer law, John Mages rests easy.

Mages, a past president of the Minnesota Corn Growers Association, farms 850 acres of good soil in Stearns County, planting corn and soybeans in spring and harvesting the crops in fall. To save topsoil and reduce overhead costs, he practices minimum tillage. And if the weather cooperates, his yields are superb: The past two years he’s averaged more than 200 bushels an acre of corn, without irrigating.

But one day last week, as Mages showed a visitor around his well-kept operation, the issue wasn’t crops but buffers. In all, he has about 30 acres of grasslands bordering waterways that either abut his croplands or run through them.

Ron Meador: Minnesota Buffer Map


Apart from its importance as a reference tool for landowners and regulators, the map of Minnesota watercourses requiring protective buffers creates a fascinating new view of the state and its distinguishing natural resource.

An exercise in high-resolution and highly interactive cartography, the map and online viewer published a couple of weeks ago by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources merges data from detailed paper maps and modern satellite imaging.

It enables a close-up look at all of the state’s lakes and streams, shown in blue in the section above, and also its public ditches, rendered in green. (The red squiggles indicate locations earmarked for ground-truthing.) You can choose to view them laid over satellite imagery of the surface, a road layout or a minimalist gray base map.

Julienne Isaacs: The Benefits and Limits of Buffers

Manitoba Co-operator:

Sandi Riemersma, an environmental biologist with Palliser Environmental Services, says the effectiveness of buffers depends on several factors, including the slope of land, soil characteristics, buffer width, vegetation, season and management.

“A riparian buffer strip is a good tool to reduce sediment transport and often can reduce particulate phosphorus mobility,” she says. “But buffers are not effective in winter and early spring when vegetation is dormant, soils are frozen and microbial activity is low or absent,” she says.

Riemersma emphasizes nutrient application management as an essential aspect of protecting waterways from nutrient run-off. In addition, she says permanent cover should be maintained near waterways, steep slopes and on erodible and saline soils. “Riparian buffers help to maintain stable stream banks, thereby reducing soil erosion and associated sediment and nutrient transport in waterways,” she says.

J. Patrick Coolican: Buffer Bill Passes

Star Tribune:

For Dayton, the passage of the bill caps off a week of lobbying that he hopes will galvanize Minnesotans on clean water, which has become one of his signature issues.

“More and more citizens and communities throughout Minnesota are being threatened by water that is unsafe for their drinking, washing and recreation,” he said in his statement last week. “These water quality problems must be addressed by all of us recognizing our shared need for safe and clean water, and our by shared willingness to protect this priceless resource.”

The politics of shoreline buffers is hard. 

Josephine Marcotty: Buffer Law Debate

Star Tribune:

Only about one-third of the streams in Minnesota’s farming regions will get the maximum amount of protection under new state buffer rules — a number that environmentalists say falls far short of what Gov. Mark Dayton’s signature water protection law was intended to accomplish.

State regulators are drawing up a map of the streams, ditches, wetlands and lakes that will fall under the new and highly controversial buffer law — the nation’s first — enacted last year in an effort to reduce pollution from farm runoff.

But they are relying on a decades-old list that excludes more than half the known small streams that create a web across Minnesota’s landscape and carry sediment, phosphorus and other pollutants into the major rivers.

Past regulatory approaches have failed in agricultural areas because people do not comply. As maps are created, both sides complain. What is public water? Common sense says it is all water is public water, but statute and rules each have definitions. In the legal world, words have meaning and consequences. All air is public, should all water be public? We need buffer laws that are meaningful and enforced. In addition, other approaches need to be adopted. For example, if you pollute you should pay. This approach is reasonable as well -- perhaps a mix of approaches will result in a system that produces clean water. 

Governor Dayton Backs Off Buffers for Private Ditches


Gov. Mark Dayton’s aggressive plans to boost water quality by requiring buffer strips along Minnesota waterways took a step back Friday when the governor acknowledged he’s ordered state conservation officials to stop mapping “private ditches.”

Dayton’s made water quality and buffer strips a key part of his intended legacy in his last years in office. The Legislature last year backed a scaled down effort to require the buffers. While there was consensus on the plan for public waterways, farmers and farm groups remained concerned about the law’s intentions when it came to ditches on private land.

The new law requires strips on ditches in areas that would benefit public waterways, but farm groups say private ditches were never meant to be part of the deal.

On Friday, Dayton said he pulled back on the private ditch efforts and ordered the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources to stop mapping them after Republicans threatened to torpedo water quality projects Dayton’s seeking in a public works spending bill in the coming session.

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.

See other 'shoreline buffers' articles by selecting the same tag (bottom of list on the right) or by searching (top right).

Doug Smith: Governor Dayton signs bill to mandate buffers

Star Tribune:

The governor said the ­buffer bill will be one of his most important legacies.

“I think we’ll see in the next couple of years a very significant expansion in the number and quality of buffers to make our water cleaner and increase wildlife habitat,” he said. “Given the predictions that were made at the beginning of the session, that nothing would happen, I think this is a very significant accomplishment.”
Said Dayton: “We put the deterioration of Minnesota’s water quality and wildlife habitat on the front burner. It directs attention to the fact that we need to be doing a lot more. “It’s a very important first step, but it’s not the last step.”

Well done Governor Dayton! You tackled a difficult issue, informed people along the way, found reasonable compromises to move it forward, and acknowledged that more work still needs to be done. Good governance and great progress on an important environmental issue. 

Dennis Anderson: Some Farmers for Buffer Bill

Star Tribune:

“What happens to water as it goes through my farm is my responsibility,” Kanne said, noting that in his part of the state, the amount of drain tile laid by farmers has doubled every two years for the past 10 years, significantly altering the region’s hydrology.

“We need to get [buffer requirements] in place because, as a farmer, I’m not the problem,’’ Kanne said. “But I’m part of the problem. And I will be part of the solution.’’

Not so fast, say lobbyists who have plied the Capitol’s hallways in St. Paul this session representing Minnesota farm and commodity groups. Their objective since Gov. Mark Dayton announced his buffer initiative in January has been to weaken, stall and/or kill the proposal. Keep the dirty water flowing, they seem to say.

Darrel Mosel: Farmers will Find Production Benefits with Buffers

SC Times:

As a farmer who has a drainage ditch, a small creek and larger creek flowing through my land, I know that when there isn’t a buffer between the crop field and the streambank, runoff takes soil and any chemicals along for the ride right over the edge. I have buffers that range from 50 to 120 feet wide. That leaves me plenty of room to raise crops on the rest of my land. And it makes a difference — the stream banks are stable, and I know my soil and inputs are staying where they belong.

But upstream and downstream, people are still trying to farm to the edge, and when heavy rains come, it’s a disaster. Creeks turn chocolate, and the banks cave in. This type of farm run-off is a major contributor to our state’s water pollution problems. It’s also an incredible waste of seed, fertilizer and chemicals.

The intended benefits of shoreline buffers that is well described by a practicing farmer.

Kyle Potter: Dayton Proposes More Money to Reimburse Farmers for Buffers

Associated Press:

In an effort to ease concerns about his plan to create 50-foot buffer zones along Minnesota waterways, Gov. Mark Dayton started lining up more money this week to reimburse farmers.

The governor set aside $20 million in his proposed bonding bill unveiled Tuesday to buy up swaths of cropland from farmers. The state had also previously applied for hundreds of millions of dollars through a federal program that pays farmers in 10- to 15-year contracts for environmentally friendly practices that could include buffers, his office said.

The current paradigm is that we have to pay farmers to do the right thing. Why as a farmer can I pollute my neighbor's place or a public resource? Why does my neighbor have to pay me to stop me from sending my pollution downstream to him? Is it my right to pollute? What would Aldo say?

Josephine Marcotty: Buffer are a Rallying Cry for Cleaner Water

Star Tribune:

Buffers are a remarkably simple solution for a lot of pollution. “Mother Nature has an awesome filter,” said Richard Schultz, a professor at Iowa State University who has studied the effects of buffer strips on one stream near Ames, Iowa, for two decades. “Let her do her thing, and she will do it.”

Buffer strips have been a common feature in farming for centuries. Barriers of grass, bushes and trees can block the rush of water from increasingly large rainstorms, slowing erosion on the land and in river beds. More important, they also stop most of the soil, phosphorus and nitrogen that the water carries off. Tall, stiff, prairie grasses on the edge of a field act as a wall to hold soil. And phosphorus, a nutrient that produces massive and sometimes toxic algae blooms in water, sticks to the soil and stops at the barrier. Plants also capture nitrogen through their roots, absorbing it and releasing it into the air before it reaches the stream.

Yeah but, a uniform regulation consisting of 50 feet of perennial vegetation is a great start -- compared to many places without a buffer.

Julie Buntjer: Minnesota Governor Dayton Talks about Buffer Initiative

Governor Dayton at Worthington

Governor Dayton at Worthington

An estimated 200 people, including farmers from more than a 12-county area of southern and western Minnesota, packed inside the Worthington Fire Hall Thursday morning to ask questions and voice concerns about Gov. Mark Dayton’s proposal seeking to require 50-foot buffer strips along all lakes, rivers and streams across the state.

Arriving a few minutes behind schedule to a standing-room-only audience, Dayton acknowledged immediately that there will be disagreements and everyone is entitled to an opinion. He listened to question after question and occasionally offered responses on his bipartisan bill (HF1534/SF1537) for nearly two hours.

Dayton’s proposal seeks to create an additional 125,000 acres of water quality buffer strips statewide, and he wants to see the initiative under way before his term expires in another three and a half years.

The idea for added buffers came from the governor’s first-ever Minnesota Pheasant Summit late last year. Since then, it has evolved to focus not only on additional habitat and space for pollinators, but also on improving water quality.

MN DNR: Governor's Buffer Initative

Minnesota DNR:

ScootterFllix, Filckr

ScootterFllix, Filckr

Governor Mark Dayton has proposed an initiative aimed at protecting Minnesota’s waters from erosion and runoff pollution.

Known as the Buffer Initiative, the legislation requires at least 50 feet of perennial vegetation around Minnesota’s waters. Buffers help filter out phosphorus, nitrogen, and sediment by slowing runoff, trapping sediment with these pollutants and allowing vegetation to absorb them.

Good summary of riparian conditions across Minnesota, a collection of shoreline buffer reports, a review of the Governor's proposal, and links to the buffer bills currently being debated.

Aggressive Plan Aims to Separate Crops from Waterways

Elizabeth Dunbar, reporting for MPR:

That the governor and members of both parties are pushing a law requiring buffers is significant, say those who have advocated buffers for years. It’s galvanized members of conservation groups like the Izaak Walton League of America. Don Arnosti, who represents the group, called it “one of the strongest initiatives that could be in the broadest public interest in pursuit of clean water.”

The bill would require buffers in place by September 2016. Current law mandates buffers along about 36 percent of the waterways in the state, according to a state agency analysis, so the change would be significant.

Republican Rep. Denny McNamara, who chairs the House Environment and Natural Resources Policy and Finance Committee, said it faces an uphill battle at the Legislature.

Minnesota Buffer Legislation

Dave Orrick, writing for the St. Paul Pioneer Press:

Gov. Mark Dayton’s vision to use wildlife habitat to protect Minnesota waters from pollution runoff and erosion is ready for action at the state Capitol.

In January, the Democratic-Farmer-Labor governor delighted and surprised conservationists by announcing he would push for a 50-foot buffer strip of vegetation along every stream, drainage ditch and river in the state. On Tuesday, a bill containing that vision — and with at least some Republican support — will be heard by an environmental committee of the Republican-controlled House.

Development of the plan, inspired by pheasant hunters seeking ways to boost the state’s declining bird numbers, is being closely watched by environmentalists and farmers alike. The plan would strengthen and close loopholes in existing state law and, at least as initially envisioned by Dayton, create some 125,000 acres of wildlife habitat along waterways that often are failing the state’s water-quality goals.

Among the beneficiaries, supporters believe, would be butterflies; pollinators, such as bees; songbirds; waterfowl; fish and other aquatic life; and degraded waters, especially in farm country. But the expense could be borne by farmers, who might be forced to take cash- producing corn and soybean rows out of production in favor of other plantings.

Minnesota Shoreland Buffer Laws Inconsistently Enforced

Doug Smith, reporting for the Star Tribune:

Dakota County Photo

Dakota County Photo

Farmer Ken Betzold has planted 50-foot-wide buffer strips on more than 1½ miles of riverland he owns in Dakota County.

And not entirely for charitable reasons. A state law requires such buffers along some lakes, rivers and streams in agricultural areas. And unlike some Minnesota counties, Dakota County strictly enforces it.

Though the requirement means taking some cropland out of production, Betzold, 72, of Castle Rock Township, sees the benefit of the buffer strips.

“It stops dirt from running into the river, and cleans the water,’’ he said. “There’s a cost, but you have to weigh that with the benefits to the environment.”

Minnesota Governor Proposes 50-foot Shoreline Buffer Enforcement

Dave Orrick, reporting for the Pioneer Press:

Dave Orrick

Dave Orrick

Gov. Mark Dayton said Friday that he will ask the Legislature to expand the law protecting Minnesota streams and ditches against erosion and chemical runoff.

At an annual Department of Natural Resources meeting on outdoors issues in Brooklyn Park, Dayton said he wants a minimum 50-foot buffer strip protecting every stream, drainage ditch and river in the state...

Current state laws mandate vegetative buffers of 50 feet or 16.5 feet around many waterways in agricultural lands, but the laws aren’t uniformly enforced, and many waters are exempt.

As a result, crops often are planted up to the edge of those waterways and runoff polluted with fertilizer and pesticides can spill into the water, eventually reach the Mississippi River.

”The rules are inconsistent, and they’re enforced inconsistently,” Dayton said. “I would propose that a 50-foot buffer be required on all riparian lands in Minnesota, and that 50-foot buffer be enforced, and I mean enforced.