Not until the early morning hours of the 2015 legislative session’s final day did lawmakers agree to the changes that quickly became new buffer requirements for the state’s public ditches and waters. But those 11th-hour negotiations left many with unanswered questions.
The House Environment and Natural Resources Policy and Finance Committee heard testimony Wednesday about a bill, HF3000, which seeks to clarify some of those uncertainties.
Rep. Paul Torkelson (R-Hanska), the bill’s sponsor, described the bill as an attempt to create more certainty about what last year’s buffer legislation does and how it works. It was amended and laid over by the committee. The companion, SF2503, is sponsored by Sen. Rod Skoe (DFL-Clearbrook) and awaits action by the Senate Environment and Energy Committee.
“There are details that have been revealed over time between last year’s session and this year that make it imperative we clarify just exactly what this legislation is,” Torkelson said.
Officials from the Board of Water and Soil Resources and the Department of Natural Resources gave the committee an update on how their work to implement the new buffer law is progressing.
Last year’s legislation requires buffers of perennial vegetation along public waters and ditches. They must be an average of 50-feet wide along public waters, with a 30-foot minimum, and a minimum of 16.5-feet wide for public ditches. The buffers are meant to keep pollutants from reaching the water.
To determine where these buffers will be needed, the DNR is now working to gather data – the existing public water inventory and existing public ditch data, which it will use to create a map of each county showing the waters subject to buffer requirements. These maps are to be completed by July 1, 2016.
The law then requires buffers to be in place for lands adjacent to public waters by Nov. 1, 2017, and buffers for lands adjacent to public drainage ditches to be in place by Nov. 1, 2018.
DNR Assistant Commissioner Sarah Strommen said local governments and the public would be given an opportunity to comment on the maps once they are out in draft form, and there would also be a process in place to make changes and fix errors after they are finalized.
Torkelson said it was important to remember farm land taken out of production due to the new buffer requirements was land farmers could not use to make a living.
“We can’t do this without some sensitivity and practicality, and that’s what we’ve tried to incorporate into the legislation before you today,” he said.
Some of the buffer law modifications proposed in HF3000 include:
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