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First Steps For Better Water Quality Start Today in Minnesota

7/1/2015 10:14:43 AM

Work is getting underway to establish 110,000 acres of new water quality buffer strips statewide

ST. PAUL, MN - Today, the first component of one of Governor Mark Dayton's major legislative priorities will take effect in Minnesota. Beginning Wednesday, July 1, 2015, funding to begin the implementation of the water quality buffer initiative becomes available to local Soil and Water Districts across Minnesota. Local Soil and Water Conservation Districts will begin hiring staff to provide technical assistance for Minnesotans as they implement new buffers, and help eligible landowners enroll in federal funding programs.

"Minnesotans are united as stewards of our lakes, rivers and streams," said Governor Dayton. "I thank Representative Paul Torkelson and Senator John Marty for their work on this very important measure. By working together, we can greatly improve the quality of our waters across our great state."

Additional components of the law will take effect over the next several years, as farmers and landowners work to implement buffers on their properties. Buffers must be in place on all public waters by November 1, 2017. Buffers on public drainage systems will be in place by November 1, 2018. A complete timeline of when different components of the law will take effect is available on the state's buffer initiative information website.

About the Buffer Initiative
Following a series of reports highlighting a concerning decline in water quality across Minnesota, Governor Dayton and lawmakers worked throughout the legislative session with farmers, landowners, environmental advocates, and public health experts to develop a solution that will reduce runoff and improve water quality. Together, they enacted legislation that will help significantly improve water quality in Minnesota.

The new buffer law will designate roughly 110,000 acres of land for buffer strips alongside Minnesota's waterways. These new perennial vegetation buffers along rivers, streams, and ditches, will help filter out phosphorus, nitrogen, and sediment before it enters the water supply. With the support of local Soil and Water Conservation Districts, the new law will provide flexibility and financial assistance for landowners to install and maintain buffers, and boost compliance with buffer laws across Minnesota.

Additional financial assistance funding is a key part of the Buffers Initiative that will accelerate clean water results in Minnesota, said John Jaschke, Director of BWSR, As they have done for many years, local Soil and Water Conservation Districts are ready to provide landowners with trusted technical advice.

How It Works
Here is how the new law buffer law will work. Additional information about the initiative, including links to frequently asked questions, and resources for landowners, is available on the state's buffer initiative website.
  • Financial and Technical Support - The legislation provides more than $33 million in additional financial support for landowners to install and maintain buffers on their properties. This new financial support, included in this year's Legacy Bill, supplements other existing state and federal programs that assist farmers and landowners in establishing effective conservation practices. The legislation also provides additional resources for local Soil and Water Conservation Districts to provide technical support for landowners to help them comply with the law.

  • Fifty-Foot Buffers on All Public Waters - By November 1, 2017, the new law will require 50 foot buffers on all public waters (lakes, rivers, and streams). These new requirements will be enforced through state and local mechanisms and can be implemented quickly.

  • Better Compliance for Public Ditches - By November 1, 2018, the new law will require 16.5-foot buffers around all public ditches. Right now, just 20 percent of public ditches are required to have a 16.5-foot buffer. By accelerating the requirements and providing better enforcement and additional support, this legislation will accomplish buffers on all public ditches.

  • Local Requirements along Other Waters - Requirements on other waters will be set by local soil and water conservation districts to meet the needs and circumstances of individual parcels of land. These measures will be taken in consultation with local landowners, and adopted into local comprehensive water management plans approved by the Board of Water and Soil Resources.

  • More Flexibility - Buffer widths will depend on the type of waterway each landowner is charged with protecting (depending on whether it is public water, a public ditch, or other waters). There will be exceptions included for areas covered by a road, building or other structures; areas enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program; public or private water access or recreational use areas; and municipalities in compliance with federal and state storm water requirements.
Recent Reports Underscore Need for Action
A series of reports have highlighted a decline in water quality in Minnesota - compelling state leaders to take action this session to establish better, more effective buffer conservation efforts statewide, including:
  • Low Compliance with Existing Buffer Laws - Due to inadequate regulations and a lack of consistent enforcement, the state's previous laws were not effective in preventing harmful runoff into lakes, rivers, and streams. In fact, recent analysis from BWSR estimates that 64 percent of all waters in the southern and western regions of Minnesota are not subject to any buffer requirements under current law. Additionally, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) estimates that only 43 percent of rivers and streams in western and southern Minnesota currently have vegetated buffers.

  • Drinking Water Concerns - In May 2015, the Minnesota Department released the findings of the state's annual drinking water report, which show nitrate levels in drinking water supplies are of increasing concern in Minnesota. Elevated levels of nitrate - which can lead to Blue Baby Syndrome in infants and other adverse human health effects - have caused an increasing number of Minnesota communities to install expensive nitrate treatment systems to ensure their water supplies are safe to drink.

  • Watershed Report -The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency recently released a report that showed that that agricultural and urban runoff is contributing significantly to the impairment of Minnesota's lakes, rivers, and streams. The impairments are caused by high levels of bacteria, nitrates and sediment, and could be prevented by better buffer strip implementation and enforcement.

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