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Environmental officials discuss state buffer strip legislation

Environmental officials informed residents about buffer regulations that passed in 2015 Thursday at the Fairlane Building in the Freeborn County Fairgrounds.

Officials from multiple agencies presented details about the legislation that establishes new perennial vegetation buffers along public ditches, lakes, streams, rivers and some wetlands.

Clarifications to the legislation made in this year’s legislative session were also discussed.

Freeborn County Water and Soil Conservation District technician Senja Viktora presented information on public drainage ditches in Freeborn County.

More than two-dozen people attended an informational session on buffer requirements Thursday night at the Freeborn County Fairgrounds.  - Sam Wilmes/Albert Lea Tribune

More than two-dozen people attended an informational session on buffer requirements Thursday night at the Freeborn County Fairgrounds. – Sam Wilmes/Albert Lea Tribune

She said 1,300 acres of buffers already exist along the county’s public drainage ditch system, noting that she believes buffers reduce soil erosion, capture sediment and nutrients from runoff, decrease nitrogen and phosphorous loading, and form more stable streams and ditch banks, creating a habitat.

According to the Mower County Soil and Water Conservation District, about 94 percent of the agricultural land in Mower County already complies with the state’s requirement of a 50-foot buffer along public waters and nearly all public ditches in the county meet the state’s 16.5-foot buffer requirement.

By Nov. 1, 2017, buffers with a 50-foot average width and a 30-foot minimum width must be in place on lands adjacent to public waters, as identified and mapped out on the buffer map.

By Nov. 1, 2018, buffers with a minimum 16.5-foot width must be in place on lands adjacent to public ditches as identified and mapped out on the buffered map

Private ditches no longer need to be buffered.

According to a press release, local governments, soil and water conservation districts, and the Board of Water and Soil Resources will work with landowners on questions about buffers and alternative water quality practices.

According to the press release, the Legislature passed the law in 2015 to protect water from runoff pollution, stabilize shores, banks and soil, and provide habitat and an area between land,  rivers and streams.

Mark Schaetzke, Freeborn County Soil and Water Conservation District general manager, said though the law has been controversial, it does serve a purpose.

“It’s also important for water quality in the area,” Schaetzke said, noting his belief that converting land use from agriculture to vegetation has sparked concern.

The legislation included the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, Board of Water and Soil Resources and Department of Natural Resources.

Craig Christenson said he wanted to make sure a site his brother and he owns meets buffer regulations.

“I just want to make sure that we have all of the information,” he said.

According to the press release, the law aims to establish 110,000 acres of vegetative buffers of up to 50 feet along lakes, rivers, streams and ditches to filter out sediment, nitrogen and phosphorous.

About Sam Wilmes

Sam Wilmes covers crime, courts and government for the Albert Lea Tribune.

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