Grace Notes

Farmers push back against governor’s Buffer Initiative

Farmers across Minnesota are still resisting Gov. Dayton’s proposed plan to keep a 50-ft vegetative buffer along all streams and lakes in the state, according to Minnesota Public Radio.

Dayton said these buffers would help filter out phosphorous, nitrogen and sediment by slowing runoff as well as allowing the vegetation to absorb the harmful pollutants. Creating these buffers would also add 200 square miles (125,000 acres) of natural habitat in areas that are considered ecologically critical by state environmentalists.

Dayton proposed the new requirements, nicknamed the “Buffer Initiative,” in January after the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency found that none of the rivers and few of the streams in the Minnesota portion of the Missouri River Basin met state standards for supporting aquatic life and recreation. Of the 93 stream sections that were assessed, only three were considered fully supportive of aquatic life, and only one was fully supportive of aquatic recreation. Of the sections that qualified in one of the two categories, 53 were non-supportive of aquatic life and 31 were non-supportive of aquatic recreation. And none of the lakes in the Missouri River Basin qualified on the aquatic recreation side.

Another reason the governor is taking a closer look at runoff pollution is because of how some of the pollution that starts in Minnesota travels down the Mississippi River and affects other states along the way before it dumps into the Gulf of Mexico.

State law already requires a 50-ft buffer around lakes and streams and a 16.5-ft. buffer along many ditches, but different areas across the state don’t always enforce this regulation. And while the current law is enforced by counties (with six counties using the existing state law to enforce buffer regulations), Dayton wants the new legislation to be moderated by the Department of Natural Resources. In addition, Dayton wants to be able to assess penalties to landowners who don’t comply.

However, not all Minnesota farmers agree with Dayton’s proposal, voicing fears that the legislation would restrict the use of too many acres of farmland.

To help ease some of the potential blow to farmers, Dayton set aside $20 million in his proposed bonding bill in April to buy land from farmers, according to the Star Tribune. In addition, he’s working to secure millions of federal dollars through a program that pays farmers in 10- to 15-year contracts for instituting buffers. There has also been talk of allowing “profitable” vegetation, such as alfalfa, in buffer zones so farmers can still make money off their land.

We’ll have to wait and see how lawmakers vote on Dayton’s idea.

Grace Webb

A former Editor of Connect Business Magazine