Legislature frees up money for buffer compliance

Published 9:21 am Tuesday, July 25, 2017

As a November deadline for buffer compliance approaches, a new resource has been unveiled to help farmers and landowners.

The Minnesota Legislature has released nearly $5 million in overall funding to use in cost-share assistance in meeting the state buffer law set in 2015. According to a press release from the Mower Soil and Water Conservation District on Monday, Mower County will get $60,000 of that money.

The funding, which comes from Minnesota’s Clean Water Fund was approved in June by the Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources.

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That money will go to helping landowners with land bordering bodies of water in the county implement buffers or alternative practices.

“Some landowners have been waiting to see what legislatures would do this year with buffers, but now we should be hearing back from everyone still needing compliance,” Mower SWCD buffer coordinator Aaron Gamm said in the press release. “Hopefully this additional funding will help with our ongoing effort.”

From the beginning, when the law was set, Mower County seemed ahead of the curve in terms of land that needed the buffer strips, which are strips of permanent vegetation that help prevent runoff into streams and ditches and filter pollutants.

According to Gamm, Mower County landowners didn’t have that much further to go.

Mower Soil and Water Conservation District Buffer Coordinator Aaron Gamm checks a buffer on some land along Roberts Creek. Photo provided

“When we started out, when the law was first proposed, when we did our initial evaluation, we were at 95 percent compliance,” Gamm said. “I’ve been working with people that may need more buffers continually and it has been pretty well received.”

According to the law, landowners need to establish on public waterways a buffer averaging 50 feet wide with no less than 30 feet in any spot, unless approved for alternative practices. Public ditches must have at least 16.5 feet of buffer on each side.

Landowners have until Nov. 1 to meet buffer requirements, but the legislation also has added an eight-month extension for those landowners who are having hardships meeting the requirements due to things like weather.

The extension would extend the deadline to July 1, 2018, but a a riparian protection compliance plan needs to filed by that initial Nov. 1 deadline with the SWCD.

In January of this year Gamm sent out more than 300 letters to county landowners who appeared to have land without buffers. About 50 percent of them have yet to contact Gamm, however, he said he will continue to work with the landowners.

“I have a list of people that were believed to be out of compliance with the current law as it was last winter,” Gamm said. “I’m working with and will continue to work with them to get them into compliance.”

That kind of one-on-one effort with landowners has been highlighted by the Mower SWCD adjustment at a local level to its own programs, putting it in a better situation to assist.

SWCD staff have been providing technical assistance to landowners for measuring, staking, seeding and layout design as well as offering programs that help landowners offset the loss of productive cropland.

One such option was revealed in May with the new round of the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) in Minnesota, which is a voluntary program offering landowners higher payments to permanently protect cropland from being farmed again.

Since the 2015 law was enacted, county landowners have enrolled more than 4,000 acres into the federal Conservation Reserve Program that typically involves the conservation easements of 10 to 15 years.