Riparian Buffers

At the State of the State address Governor Dayton reaffirmed his commitment to passing some form of riparian buffer legislation this session.  

From the perspective of a lakeshore steward, the riparian buffer proposal does not change how the land is managed. The program is more focused to address the streams, rivers and watercourses that meander through the agricultural land surrounding many Minnesota lakes.

The primary goal of this initiative for Governor Dayton is to improve water quality in the state, and it will. Governor Dayton's initiative is a step in this direction. But if Minnesota hopes to lower the number of degraded lakes in the state we will have to do more - MLR will continue to advance legislation that will create incentives for shoreland owners to protect, enhance or restore riparian land and increase water quality in Minnesota.

Here is a brief summary what was included in the final environment bill related to buffers. 

  • Requires public ditches that have not been redetermined to have a 16.5' buffer by 2018. Gives the state the authority to take money away from SWCDs for non-compliance with buffer standards. ​
  • Requires a 50' average buffer for public waters.
  • The penalty for non-compliance with riparian buffers is limited to $500 total.
  • Buffer of continuous perennial vegetation (defined as perennial vegitation that is able able to be mowed, hayed or grazed) ​required along public waters by November 1, 2017.
  • ​Buffers must be ​50-foot average width ​with a​ 30-foot minimum width o​be ​compliant with existing state standards, whichever ​is greater.
  • Buffer of continuous perennial vegetation ​required along public drainage systems by November 1, 2018: ​16.5 feet minimum (same as existing drainage law) or an alternative water quality practice as approved by the BWSR.
  • The language includes exemptions ​for CRP land, water access; roads, trails, buildings and temporary non-vegetation as a result of ditch or field maintenance, etc.
  • ​Requires soil water conservation districts (SWCDs) and watershed districts (WDs) to work with landowners to implement buffer requirements.
  • ​Gives the State the authority to withhold funding from a SWCD or water management authority that fails to implement the buffer requirements.
  • ​DNR must prepare "buffer protection maps" showing waterways that require buffers. 

In addition to strong enforcement of the new riparian buffer rules, Minnesota should take further steps to protect and improve water quality and implement incentives for landowners that go above and beyond these modest requirements. Over development of lakeshore is one of the contributing factors increased nitrogen runoff, loss of aquatic habitat and declining fisheries and aesthetic values on our lakes. As any lakeshore or riverfront property owner knows, the tax pressure on this sensitive riparian property is intense, often forcing owners to sell off or subdivide the very land the state is seeking to protect for the benefit of public waters.

MLR will continue working to advance the Sustainable Shoreline Incentive Act, (SSIA) an incentive program for property owners who go beyond the new buffer reqirements. MLR supports protecting Minnesota's waterways with buffers, and believes that a combination of common sense rules and effective incentives will do much to protect our lake and river heritage for current and future generations.

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