Farmers weigh in on Dayton’s buffer proposal 

Published 10:21 am Wednesday, March 25, 2015

By Kim Hyatt

Owatonna People’s Press

BLOOMING PRAIRIE — Believing people with “boots on the ground” need the opportunity to provide input on Gov. Mark Dayton’s new buffer proposal, Rep. Peggy Bennett, R-Albert Lea, provided that opportunity over the weekend and more than 80 farmers from the region responded.

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“We all want clean water. Farmers want that just as much as anybody else,” Bennett said in the crowded Blooming Prairie City Center on Saturday morning.

Dayton’s bill would require a minimum 50-foot buffer around “perennial waters,” or land that has a bed and bank with flowing water during the majority of the growing season. Buffers would increase water quality and protect habitat, proponents say.

But already the bill was amended since Dayton announced it on March 9, most notably going from a bill to benefit pheasant population to now being all about water quality.

After the listening session, Bennett, whose legislative district includes Blooming Prairie, said she foresees more changes to the bill.

A buffer, also known as a riparian area, is a filter strip that does two things, according to John Jaschke, executive director of the Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources:

• Holds the bank of the ditch together and keeps the soil bound as opposed to a buffer-free ditch which prevents erosion.

• Filters pollutant run-off from “sheet flow,” a concentration of flow coming from across land, such as a soybean field, which likely has phosphorus, nitrogen and sediment.

If the law passes, water quality buffer strips would need to surround perennial vegetation to prevent pollutants from entering water supplies in the state and everywhere south. In total, the bill could affect 125,000 acres of land adjacent to water.

And that’s where some opposition plays in.

Some farmers are complying with a drainage law that requires 16.5-foot buffers around perennial waters that’s been in place since 1977.

By adding another 36 feet to the buffer requirement, the state would be “taking hundred of thousands of perfectly good acres out of production,” said Gary Pestorious, board chair of the Shell Rock River Watershed District in Freeborn County.

“The 16.5-foot is there. I don’t know why you have to introduce something new,” Pestorious said to Jaschke.