Minnesota Farmer


50 foot buffer

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Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton stirred up a bit of controversy when he proposed a 50 foot buffer strip on Minnesota rivers, lakes and drainage ditches.  If he wanted to get the discussion going on ways to protect our states waters, he definitely succeeded.  In fact the surprise and controversy started on the day of his announcement when DNR officials were blindsided by his intentions.

I attended the meeting on buffer strips held at the Worthington Fire Hall on Thursday.  The room was more than standing room only as attendees spilled out into the hallway.  One bystander counted over 150 standing in the room and could not count those in the hallways or seated.  Mostly it was farmers at the meeting, but a sprinkling of mayors, school officials and agricultural business employees were also there.  All came out in support of buffer strips and water quality, but did not agree that a one size fits all 50 foot buffer would solve the problem.

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There was also come confusion on what Dayton’s proposal would not include.  At first blush the proposal seems to be aimed at farm land which would amount to an uncompensated taking of land from farm families that live near these waters.  Pictures posted at the meeting by the governors office did cover only farm land so that intention seem to be supported.  One attendee questioned whether the DNR should not also be held to this standard and had pictures of local DNR land that would become out of compliance with a 50 foot buffer.  Also unstated was if this proposal would include land currently used as beach front gardens, play areas and lawns.

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Not every drainage ditch bank slopes down to the water for over 50 feet.  Most drainage ditches in rural areas have banks of soil along them that create a barrier to water running into the ditch.  This soil was placed there when the ditch was dug and is an effective barrier to water entering except in controlled areas.  Do these ditches also need a 50 foot buffer?

The controversy has not been helped by some news organizations making statements like “Big Ag. against clean water.”  Those at the Worthington meeting were not against clean water, they were against a blanket 50 foot buffer strip proposal.  Also, those at the meeting could not in any way be considered “Big Ag.” but they were farmers of all ages, farm types and farm sizes who own and live on the land that will be affected by this proposal.

Governor Dayton further muddied the waters by several times bringing up the recent notice by an area town to have it’s city residents use bottled water.  This problem was not at all related to buffers, but to a malfunction of equipment in the city’s water supply.

At the end of the meeting Dist. 22 Sen. Bill Weber, R-Luverne, gave his response on the governor’s proposal saying that one of the take-aways from the discussion is that there isn’t one answer to the problem.

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“We have a variety of programs out there, and they really do work,” Weber said. “The reality of this proposal is it put everybody on defense right away.”

Yet, Weber said there is a willingness for stakeholders to gather, sit down and discuss it further. He encouraged Dayton to gather representatives from farm, drainage and conservation organizations to discuss what is available now and how something more could be implemented.

Weber also asked Dayton to “say these bills are dead for this year” and bring the groups to the table for discussion.

“I think you will be pleasantly surprised with the cooperation and willingness … in advancing the goal that you have,” Weber added.

So the process has started.  The discussion on the 50 foot buffer has now moved out of St. Paul and into the out state area.  From what I have heard the other meetings the Governor has set up were also well attended.  It shows a willingness to talk about the issue, but is also shows that the governor made the proposal without consulting his own department heads.  Perhaps if he had discussed this with them first there would not be so much controversy.

The proposal is still moving on in the state house and senate.  It is still likely that it will not even make it through one or more committees before the end of the session.  If it does move forward it will need much work, much more than has been shown so far.

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