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State buffer law compliance tops 95%

By MWA, 10/31/17, 4:00PM CDT

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Below is a news release from Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton announcing strong compliance with the state's new buffer law.

ST. PAUL, Minn. – As the bipartisan water quality buffer initiative reaches its first deadline this week, Minnesota is now at least 95 percent compliant with the statewide water quality effort. Gov. Mark Dayton thanked Minnesota farmers for taking advantage of the bipartisan law’s flexibility and additional funding to participate fully in the statewide effort to improve water quality and wildlife habitat across Minnesota. More than 40 percent of Minnesota waters are currently polluted or impaired. Water quality buffers improve water quality by filtering out contaminants before they reach our streams, lakes, and rivers.

“I want to thank the many farmers, other landowners, and local officials across Minnesota for their leading efforts to protect and improve the quality of our state’s water,” Dayton said. “Over the past three months, my Administration has met with thousands of Minnesotans in ten town hall meetings to find flexible solutions that will protect and improve the quality of our water for ourselves and future generations. Clean water is our shared responsibility.”

Dayton signed bipartisan legislation in 2015 to establish Minnesota’s water quality buffer initiative, which establishes new perennial vegetation buffers along rivers, streams, lakes, public ditches and some wetlands. Buffers protect Minnesota’s water resources by helping filter out phosphorus, nitrogen and sediment, and stabilizing banks. Since then, Governor Dayton and the Minnesota legislature have worked hard to provide the flexibility and financial support Minnesota farmers and landowners needed to lead on water quality.

“The statewide compliance rates show that Minnesota farmers were committed to meeting the November 1 deadline,” said Agriculture Commissioner Dave Frederickson. “In fact, many farmers and landowners already had buffers in place when the requirement became law. And others have now responded to the Governor’s call asking them to be part of the solution to clean up our valuable water resources.”

The Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources (BWSR) and the Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) worked with farmers and local experts to develop alternative practices that have equivalent water quality benefits to buffers. These alternative practices helped farmers make choices to protect water quality in ways that work best for them. This leadership by farmers was critical to the state meeting at least 95 percent buffer compliance by November 1.

“Thanks to the efforts of Minnesota landowners, we are well on our way to meeting the November 1 deadline to have buffers on Minnesota Public Waters. Minnesota’s buffer law is designed to be flexible while delivering improved water quality benefits for future generations,” said BWSR Executive Director John Jaschke. “There are many great examples of landowners and Soil and Water Conservation Districts working together to find a solution that works for them and their land.”

More information on the buffer program, including more detailed information on alternative practices and the variety of technical and financial assistance available to help landowners with implementation, can be found at mn.gov/buffer-law.

Waivers Available for Farmers Facing Hardships
This legislative session, Governor Dayton worked with the legislature to give farmers and other landowners, who faced hardships meeting the November 1 deadline, additional time to work together with their local Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) on a compliance plan. Under this flexible partnership, Minnesota farmers can get a waiver for compliance until July 1, 2018. Landowners who have applied for financial assistance and are waiting to hear back from state or federal programs have a waiver until November 1, 2018.

For farmers who still need to get a waiver, local SWCDs are doing all they can to help. After the November 1 deadline, local SWCDs will reach out to farmers who have not yet installed buffers, and who have not applied for a waiver, to work with them on a plan to reach compliance. 

Landowners interested in exploring a waiver can get in touch with their local SWCD and find additional information at mn.gov/buffer-law.

Minnesota Farmers Lead on Water Quality
As the bipartisan water quality buffer initiative reaches its first deadline this week for public waters, Minnesota is now 95 percent compliant with the statewide water quality effort. This new analysis from BWSR is based on reports collected from local Soil and Water Conservation Districts (SWCDs) and local governments across Minnesota. A full map showing compliance rates across Minnesota is available here. Below, see water quality buffer compliance rates on public waters across Minnesota.

Timeline: Cooperative, Bipartisan Push for Clean Water
Protecting and improving Minnesota’s waters requires all of us working together. Below, see how Governor Dayton has worked with Minnesota farmers, landowners, and bipartisan legislators to ensure cleaner water for future generations.

2015 Legislative Session – Governor Dayton signed bipartisan legislation in 2015 to establish Minnesota’s water quality buffer initiative to reduce phosphorous, nitrogen, and sediment from entering Minnesota’s lakes and streams to improve water quality statewide.

2016 Legislative Session – After receiving additional feedback from farmers and landowners across Minnesota, Governor Dayton in 2016 signed another bipartisan bill into law making changes to the program to provide more flexibility and clarity for Minnesotans.

March 2017 – The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) worked with Minnesota farmers and other landowners to collect nearly 4,200 public comments on Minnesota’s water quality buffer map, resulting in nearly 2,800 changes. These changes ensured the initiative’s integrity, reflecting the feedback of landowners and local officials in a cooperative effort to improve the quality of our lakes, streams, and drinking water. This progress, paired with high compliance rates, demonstrates the efforts of Minnesotans to step up for clean water.

2017 Legislative Session – Governor Dayton worked with the legislature to secure new funding for direct payments to farmers and for local buffer support which includes: $5 million in new Clean Water funding for direct cost-share payments to landowners; $8 million the first year, and $10 million each year after for counties and watershed districts to enact buffer compliance and implementation. Additionally, Governor Dayton signed a law this year, for landowners who faced hardships meeting the November 1 deadline to commit to a compliance plan with their local SWCD to receive a waiver until July 1, 2018.

November 1, 2017 – For the November 1, 2017 deadline, Minnesota farmers established 50-foot average width (30-foot minimum width) buffers, or alternative practices, on lands adjacent to public waters and identified and mapped on the buffer map.

November 1, 2018 – For the next deadline, on November 1, 2018, Minnesota farmers and other landowners will establish 16.5-foot minimum width buffers, or alternative practices, on lands adjacent to public ditches as identified and mapped on the buffer map. 

Financial Assistance for Farmers and Landowners
Numerous financial assistance programs exist to help Minnesota farmers and landowners implement clean water conservation practices on their land. In 2017, Governor Dayton worked with the legislature to secure $5 million in new Clean Water funding for direct cost-share payments to farmers and local government support and  $8 million in 2018 ($10 million every year after) for local governments to help with buffer implementation and compliance. This comes in addition to $11 million per year for soil water and conservation districts to increase their capacity to assist landowners implementing conservation practices (including buffers or alternative practices). 

Landowners interested in voluntary, permanent protection can also apply for the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP). In 2016 and 2017, Governor Dayton worked with the legislature to secure $116 million in state funding for CREP. This unlocks an additional $271 million dollars in federal funding for CREP. Buffers and other water quality practices on agricultural land can be put into CREP.

More information on the buffer program, including more detailed information on alternative practices and the variety of technical and financial assistance available to help landowners with implementation, can be found at mn.gov/buffer-law.