With the Nov. 1 deadline just around the corner, 94% of Minnesota landowners are compliant with the public water protection provision of the state’s buffer law, according to the Board of Soil and Water Resources.
At a press conference last week, John Jaschke, BWSR executive director, noted the progress made by landowners. He was joined by Dave Frederickson, Minnesota Department of Agriculture commissioner, and Sarah Strommen, Department of Natural Resources assistant commissioner, to discuss progress made regarding buffer implementation. They also provided reminders and resources for landowners to meet the buffer requirements.
“Over the past year, information we’ve been collecting from soil and water conservation districts and some counties indicate that where there are public waters, 94% of the parcels have sufficient buffers in place,” Jaschke said. Landowners of the remaining 30,000 parcels not in compliance are either in the process of working on buffer implementation or applying for a waiver. The latter would allow a landowner to seed buffers next spring, or work with federal programs to obtain cost-share funds to do the work.
Jaschke noted that those uncompliant parcels will have site-by-site assessments done.
Most buffers probably already in place
He also acknowledged that the majority of public waters prior to the 2015 law probably already had buffers in place.
“We don’t know for sure,” he said. “We didn’t have a pre-inventory. Probably a majority were already in place.”
Minnesota's buffer law calls for perennial vegetation buffers of up to 50 feet along lakes, rivers and streams, and buffers of 16.5 feet along public ditches. The deadline for implementation for buffers on public waters is Nov. 1. The deadline for public ditches is Nov. 1, 2018.
When asked what the compliance level might be for public ditches, Jaschke said it is hard to distinguish one-rod buffers using aerial maps. He estimated that 70% of public ditches are already in compliance with the state buffer law.
Strommen noted that the statewide buffer protection map, available online, is up to date. More than 2,000 modifications were made to it after the DNR received hundreds of landowner comments.
Water quality protection efforts = regulatory certainty for farmers
Frederickson thanked farmers and landowners for the work that has been completed to date.
“We encourage farmers and landowners to work with their SWCD if they are not able to meet the Nov. 1 deadline to find a solution that works for them and their land,” he said.
Frederickson also provided an update on the Minnesota Ag Water Quality Certification Program, which recognizes farmers for conservation and water quality protection efforts by granting them regulatory certainty for 10 years. There are 473 producers and 272,792 acres enrolled in the program thus far.
“I hope to hit a half million acres in the next six months,” he added.
Landowners have several resources to help them comply with buffer implementation, according to BWSR and MDA officials. They have the option of complying with the law by using alternative practices that have equivalent water quality benefits to buffers. BWSR issued guidance documents to support landowners identifying alternative practices for their lands. Those alternative practices with equivalent water quality benefits are based on the Natural Resources Conservation Service Field Office Technical Guide.
Landowners who request financial and technical assistance can request additional time to comply with their local SWCD. If they are unable to meet the Nov. 1 deadline, landowners who commit to a compliance plan with their local SWCD by Nov. 1 will receive a waiver until July 1, 2018, to implement their buffer or alternative practice.
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 several online sites: