The Minnesota Department of Resources recently announced revisions to the state’s original Public Waters Inventory, because some watercourses were incorrectly identified as public ditches in the early 1980s.
The DNR decision removes around 540 watercourse segments, totaling 640 miles from the PWI.
“The removal, on a statewide basis, is small,” says Luke Skinner, director of DNR’s Division of Ecological and Water Resources. The correction affects 1.2% of Minnesota’s public watercourse and public ditch miles, or about 5 miles per affected county. Seventy-one counties in the state have been identified as requiring the PWI revisions.
The discrepancies came to light when preliminary buffer protection maps were released by DNR as required by the state’s new buffer law. Some farmers and public drainage ditch authorities questioned the maps because they believed they had private ditches on their land, not public ones. When DNR officials took a closer look, they agreed with landowners that a majority of the watercourses in question were private ditches.
Accordingly, the DNR will remove these segments from the buffer protection map this month, meaning that approximately 640 miles of watercourses no longer have a buffer requirement.
Correction of oversights from 1980s
The agency’s action corrects oversights from the 1980s when, given the data at the time, some watercourses were mapped as public ditches. Proper notice was not given to landowners back then to review the new PWI maps. Plus, new PWI lists provided to drainage ditch authorities did not provide information on the watercourses mapped as public ditches.
State statute gives authority to the DNR commissioner to correct errors in the PWI. Since the watercourses were mapped as public ditches in error and since proper notice was not provided, DNR removed these watercourses from the PWI.
Both Minnesota Farm Bureau Federation and Minnesota Farmers Union support the DNR correction.
“We are definitely happy to see some of our [buffer] issues brought forth and resolved,” says Cole Rupprecht, MFBF Public Policy associate director.
Adds Gary Wertish, Minnesota Farmers Union president: “We’re pleased that the Department of Natural Resources listened to farmers’ concerns and removed these particular watercourses from the buffer protection maps. We encourage the DNR and the Board of Water and Soil Resources to continue working with farmers on the buffer issue to arrive at a solution that will work for farmers.”
Skinner adds that the buffer map update could be completed by midmonth. Since DNR does not know who owns land with the corrected designation, individual landowners will not be contacted. Skinner encourages farmers to contact their local soil and water conservation districts for more information, and to check out the DNR buffer mapping project website.