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Legislative News and Views - Rep. Paul Torkelson (R)

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Thursday, March 12, 2015

ST. PAUL - In an attempt to emphasize the need for bipartisan legislation that will encourage the voluntary use of buffers to improve water quality, State Representative Paul Torkelson (R-Hanska) is carrying Governor Dayton's buffer bill. As currently written, it would require farmers to create a 50-foot buffer of perennially rooted vegetation adjacent to ditches, rivers and streams.

Torkelson said he is carrying the governor's legislation in hopes of making significant improvements to it during the committee hearing process.

"In my opinion Governor Dayton's bill, as currently written, goes too far and landowners are questioning the need for this one-size-fits-all legislation," Torkelson said. "Buffers are an important conservation practice that can have a positive impact on water quality, but only when they are the right size and in the right place. My goal is to take this legislation and eventually work it into something acceptable."

The idea behind the 50-foot buffer bill is to cut down on pollution runoff and improve wildlife habitats. But, according to Torkelson, the plan is extremely controversial as it will cause farmers to lose productive farmland.

Current law requires a 16.5-foot buffer along public ditches that have had a redetermination of benefits; the governor's proposal would triple those requirements. Torkelson also noted several other problems with the bill, such as expanding the buffer requirements to private ditch systems; not clearly addressing whether the owner or operator of the land is the responsible party; and transferring jurisdiction from counties to the state.

Torkelson added that if approved in its current form, many county soil and water conservation districts would likely lack the needed resources to handle the increased workload.

"Our agricultural community understands and supports the value of targeted buffers when they are installed for the purpose of water quality improvement," Torkelson said. "But the property rights of landowners must also be protected and owners and operators must be properly compensated for their losses."

"Farmers care about water quality and in fact have worked with state and federal agencies to implement a variety of existing water quality programs," Torkelson continued. "But forcing a one-size-fits-all approach on them amounts to the state condemning personal property. That must change in order for any new buffer legislation to have needed legislative support."