A move is afoot to pass legislation that would "withhold enforcement" of Minnesota's updated buffer law for five years, according to the New Ulm Journal.
Buried in the last paragraph of Fritz Busch's copy in Commissioners to host proposed budget, levy meeting, we find this item under "[o]ther legislative concerns":
Consider introducing legislation that would withhold enforcement of the Dayton Buffer law (103F) for 5 years to allow counties to complete ROB (Redetermination of Benefits) under the 103E drainage law. This would ensure that landowners will have been paid for the loss of productive land.
Brown County's commissioners will be meeting with state senator Gary Dahms,R-Redwood Falls, and state representative Paul Torkelson, R-Hanska, "to discuss legislative issues in the commissioner’s room at 4:30 p.m., [Tuesday] Dec. 12," Busch reports.
The language would essentially serve as a moratorium on buffer law enforcement, underscoring what Star Tribune outdoors columnist Dennis Anderson speculated in a May 4, 2017 column, Separating fact from fiction about Minnesota's buffer law:
Let’s separate fact from fiction about buffers:
• Minnesota waters are a mess, a fact empirically demonstrable. Agriculture is not the only culprit, but it’s the major culprit. And buffers, properly installed along streams, ditches and other waterways, will help.
• Buffer opponents aren’t trying to improve the law, clean the state’s waters in an alternative manner or in good faith otherwise attempt to better Minnesota’s environment. Instead they hope to delay the law’s implementation, or weaken it sufficiently, until Dayton is out of office — hopefully, his opponents say, taking his buffer idea with him. . . . [emphasis added]
Delaying enforcement five years would allow buffer opponents--or those who think confusion around the issue is a winning ticket--two gubernatorial campaign cycles to land their person in the governor's office. Bad faith, and worse water quality.
There's more on the 1977 ROB buffer legislation in Ron Meador's article,The many misconceptions about Minnesota's new buffer program, at MinnPost:
Because matters of compliance and enforcement are so crucial, we began by digging into why things didn’t go better under the old system – and why they’re likely to improve with the new one. . . .
“The problem was really with the laws being inadequate to get buffers in place,” Jaschke said. “There were some laws requiring some buffers in some cases, in some places.”
For public ditches, he explained, there was indeed a 1977 statute requiring that a one-rod buffer strip be left uncultivated – but it only applied after the county, watershed district or other local ditch authority had gone through a proceeding known as a “redetermination of benefits [ROB].”
These proceedings establish whose land benefits from the ditch, and whose has been harmed, and how costs and compensation should be apportioned among landowners. Not surprisingly, it’s a process that can take some time and doesn’t necessarily foster enthusiasm.
“In the case of Freeborn County, they very systematically took that on and made determinations for all their ditches, and established one-rod buffers for them,” Jaschke said. “But overall, the rate of progress has been 20 percent over the last 38 years – so the projection was, this will take 150 years to complete under that system.” . . .
The news of the potential legislation clashes with word reaching Bluestem about the new buffer law: that soil and water boards in south central Minnesota are receiving very little push back about the new law. Multiple sources told us that was the general sense of those attending the MN Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts Annual Convention last weekend.
Moreover, because of the changes in the law, counties are indeed completing redetermination of benefits. At the West Central Tribune, Tom Cherveny reports in Renville County pushes ahead on redetermination:
Renville County is aiming to complete the redetermination of benefits process on all of its county ditch systems in the coming year.
It should help landowners who have county ditches on their property, and must have 16½-foot buffer strips seeded along them by Nov. 1, 2018, to comply with Minnesota's new buffer law.
When a redetermination is completed on a ditch system, all property owners who are benefited by the drainage system share in the costs of its maintenance. The landowners who have installed buffers will be compensated for the easement on that land by the ditch system, and they will be paid $150 per acre for their seeding costs.
Larry Zupke, Renville County drainage director, outlined the county's efforts at informational meetings on the new buffer law.
The county has 151 ditch systems, of which 46 or 48 are county systems, Zupke said. He said the county is completing the redetermination process on 12 ditches currently.
The majority of the ditch systems in the county are joint ditches with neighboring counties, which are jointly administered, or they are judicial ditches, established by court order and also often administered by multiple counties.
When the county learned that H2Over Viewers could carry out the redetermination process on multiple systems, it approved a contract with the company to get all of the county systems completed. . . .
Read the rest at the Tribune. H2Over Viewers describes its services on its website:
H2Over Viewers specialize in economic impact consulting, with an emphasis on projects affecting property and business owners. We are extremely skilled in providing quality detailed reports with geo-referenced maps of the impacted areas.
Always working with the newest technologies available we offer the latest in 3-D watershed and topography modeling as well as geo-referenced maps that can be imported into your systems for your use long after your project is complete.
We offer solutions in a wide variety of arenas. Including, but not limited to:
Drainage Systems - We provide detailed reporting on the economic impact to lands that benefit from the use of a public drainage system.
It's amazing what a positive attitude and a bit of the newest technologies can accomplish. At 65 percent compliance, Renville County is well behind most counties in Minnesota, but the soon-to-be completed ROB process will allow landowners to be compensated.
Learn more about the technology in Cherveny's report, Eye in sky will help Renville County enforce buffer law.
This sort of development--along with the efforts of landowners--makes Bluestem wonder why any further delays should be written into Minnesota law. Anderson is on to something.
Indeed, at the end of October, the Governor's office issued a press release noting Governor Dayton Thanks Minnesota Farmers for Work to Protect Water Quality under Statewide, Bipartisan Effort:
Thanks to farmers, Minnesota is now at least 95 percent compliant with the state’s bipartisan water quality buffer initiative ahead of first deadline for public waters
In the last two years, Governor Dayton worked with legislators to provide flexibility and financial support to help Minnesota landowners improve water quality
Minnesota farmers and landowners who need additional time to install water quality buffers can get a waiver to work on a plan that works for them
ST. PAUL, MN – 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. Governor 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,” said Governor Dayton. “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.”
Governor 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.”. . .
Between the use of new technology and the statewide compliance rate, Bluestem is tempted to agree with one source who told us via email "The only complaints are from the cranks. . . .The whole thing has been appeasing a few wealthy right wing nuts."
Photo: Various buffer images. Via the state's website.
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