In 2015 the Minnesota legislature approved what is known as the buffer law, which requires all public waterways, including rivers, lakes, creeks and streams to include a 50-foot vegetative buffer....

 In 2015 the Minnesota legislature approved what is known as the buffer law, which requires all public waterways, including rivers, lakes, creeks and streams to include a 50-foot vegetative buffer.

That law also includes a one-rod – 16.5 feet – buffer on all ditches throughout the state.

In 2016, that law was clarified to include only public ditches in the buffer requirements.

In an effort to help landowners and operators better understand their obligations under the buffer law, some local agencies are hosting meetings next week.

The intent of the meetings is to provide a basic overview of the buffers law and then to allow those attending the meetings to ask questions, said Marilyn Bernhardson, Redwood County Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) administrator.

The buffer maps will also be made available for those attending.

The maps have been developed by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR), and the most recent map of the buffer requirements for both public waters and ditches was released Tuesday.

According to Tom Landwehr, DNR commissioner, the preliminary numbers show there are 54,000 miles of watercourses in the state that would require buffers and an additional 40,000 miles of shoreline that must be buffered.

Some of those buffers already exist, said Landwehr, who spoke during a conference call Tuesday about the maps, adding the preliminary estimates are showing up to hundreds of thousands of acres could be put into the buffers by the time the effort is finished.

According to Bernhardson, the 50-foot buffer law on public waters and the 16.5-foot buffer rule on public ditches have both been on the books for some time, and the new law in essence put the two rules together under one new law that now includes a deadline to finish the job.

The public ditch buffer rule required the buffers to be added when the ditch authority would conduct a redetermination. Now all of those buffers must be added regardless of the redetermination process.

In addition to the SWCD being at the local meetings, other agencies will be in attendance, including the Natural Resources Conserva-tion Service (NRCS), which will provide some of the technical requirements, the Farm Service Agency (FSA), which will offer information about other programs in place (such as the Conser-vation Reserve Program) that would pay to put in a buffer, and Redwood County, which will talk about its role in compliance. The SWCD will be in attendance to talk about what landowners need to do and the deadlines by which the work must be done.

The meetings next week begin Wednesday (July 20) with the first being held in Vesta at the cafe from 9:30-11:30 a.m. A second meeting is being held at in the cafeteria at Cedar Mountain school in Morgan from 1:30-3:30 p.m. Two meetings are being held next Thursday (July 21), with the first being held at the public library in Redwood Falls from 9:30-11:30 a.m. The second meeting is at the American Legion Hall in Lamberton from 1:30-3:30 p.m. All who might be impacted by the new rule are invited to attend.

“I want to encourage everyone who may be required to put in buffers to get all of the information they can,” said District 16B Rep. Paul Torkelson, who was involved in crafting the final buffer bill. “Be sure to look at the map and check for errors.”

Torkelson said he looked at some of the preliminary maps and found several things that needed to be corrected on land he owns.

John Jaschke, Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources (BWSR) executive director, explained the a buffer serves as a filter strip alongside a body of water in an effort to keep undesirable materials out of the water in the state, which, he added, is an extremely important natural resource.

Jaschke added when one is implementing the buffers the makeup of the vegetation is up to the landowner.

Bernhardson said the law also allows for those landowners to hay those buffers they own.

“Vegetative buffers help filter pollutants and sediment out of our waterways,” said Landwehr. “Completing this map is a critical step toward the ultimate goal of protecting one of our most valuable natural resources – clean water.”

The project now turns to implementation with these upcoming deadlines:

• Nov 1, 2017: 50-foot average width, 30-foot minimum width, buffers must be in place on lands adjacent to public waters and identified and mapped on the map.

• Nov. 1, 2018: 16.5-foot minimum width buffers must be in place on lands adjacent to public ditches as identified and mapped.

Torkelson said the buffers must be in place by those deadlines, adding, however, he thinks those who have made a good faith effort toward putting those buffers in place by that deadline will likely not have to face enforcement issues.

Bernhardson said the compliance enforcement is an issue that is still unknown, as the current consequence is $500. What that means, is still up in the air, Bernhard-son said, adding whether that is a fine assessed daily or one time still needs additional clarification.

Torkelson admitted the buffer law is a pretty complex one, and it is very important for those who are impacted to find out as much information as they can. The meetings being held next week are intended to help those landowners as they move through the process over the next couple of years.

Bernhardson said this process is a good way for government agencies to work together to help find common sense solutions to a very important issue.