Dayton signs deal providing $350M to protect waters; Plan could help protect 100 square miles of land

Published 10:41 am Wednesday, January 18, 2017

By Christopher Magan

Pioneer Press, St. Paul, Minn.

Minnesota could protect close to 100 square miles of land that is key to improving water quality, thanks to a new federal partnership that provides money for farmers willing to put property into conservation easements.



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Gov. Mark Dayton signed the deal with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, worth $350 million in federal funding, during a Tuesday ceremony in the state Capitol rotunda. The agreement is the latest progress on one of the governor’s key priorities: improving the state’s rivers, lakes and groundwater.

“Through this landmark agreement, Minnesota will be better able to protect and improve our waters for our families, natural habitat and our future,” Dayton said in a statement. “Clean water is everyone’s challenge, and everyone’s responsibility.”

A bipartisan group of lawmakers joined Dayton to celebrate the federal pact. It requires Minnesota to put up $150 million in matching funds over the coming years and about $55 million of that money has already been budgeted and more is included in legislation proposed by Dayton.

The money will be used by the state’s Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program, or CREP, which compensates landowners who voluntarily put their property into conservation easements.

State officials say the money could go a long way toward helping farmers who need to install 50-foot buffer strips of perennial plants between crops and state waters. The new agreement will be focused on roughly 60,000 acres of land in 54 counties across the southern and western parts of the state.

State lawmakers approved Dayton’s buffer law in 2015 and state agencies are working to determine which lands need to be protected.

During his push for the bill, Dayton highlighted studies from state agencies that found more than 40 percent of the waters in the Land of 10,000 Lakes is polluted or impaired.

“It’s important that we have people here that don’t always agree on everything, that agree on this thing,” said Rep. Rick Hansen, DFL-South St. Paul, who was one of a bipartisan group of lawmakers who worked to pass the buffer law.

The buffer legislation passed with bipartisan support, but agricultural groups and many Republican lawmakers have said the new rules are problematic. Rep. Steve Green, R-Fosston, introduced a bill last week that would repeal the buffer law.

A spokesman for Dayton said the governor would veto any repeal of his buffer legislation, but he is open to exploring ways to improve the law.