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Minnesota water buffer maps released

ST. PAUL -- Minnesota farmers may not need to install as many mandated buffer strips as originally thought, but it still will cost millions of dollars to comply with a new state law.

ST. PAUL -- Minnesota farmers may not need to install as many mandated buffer strips as originally thought, but it still will cost millions of dollars to comply with a new state law.

After announcing Tuesday that a new map is available showing where buffers are required, Natural Resources Commissioner Tom Landwehr quoted a new Otter Tail County study that showed just 1,000 acres of land will need to be transformed into buffers to slow water pollution.

"The impact on an individual likely will be quite small," Landwehr said, in one of the state's largest and most "water rich" counties.

Executive Director John Jaschke of the Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources said that Becker County, like Otter Tail in western Minnesota, already has 90 percent of required buffers in place. Some are natural, others have been planted.

While admitting that the Becker number may be high compared to other counties, the take-away from what Jaschke and Landwehr told reporters Tuesday is that a new buffer law may cost less than thought.

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That is especially true if farmers are successful in getting federal money through the Conservation Reserve Program that pays for farmers to idle farmland. Landwehr also said the state is asking the federal government to enhance the program to provide even more money to Minnesota farmers and other landowners.

The map Landwehr released Tuesday shows landowners what water needs to have buffers around it, and how large the buffers must be.

The buffer law came into being a year ago in response to water pollution, especially in areas where chemicals run off cropland. It requires perennial vegetation buffers along rivers, streams, lakes, public ditches and some wetlands.

Some buffers have been required for years, but the state has not always enforced that law.

Jaschke said that buffers not only filter water headed to lakes and streams, but plant roots also hold banks in place.

The map shows whether buffers must be an average of 50 feet wide or 16.5 feet. More than 90,000 miles along state waters must have the buffers, a program pushed by Gov. Mark Dayton.

Landowners may propose other forms of water quality practices instead of buffers. Jaschke said there are situations where buffers would not be best at holding back pollution; berms, for instance, may be better in some locations.

Landwehr that up to 100,000 acres may need to be buffered in the next couple of years.

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Jaschke said it typically costs $100 an acre if a landowner seeds a buffer himself, but twice that if someone is hired to do the work. No one knows how much of that work could be funded by Washington.

The DNR reports that the new map was developed from maps created in the late 1970s and early 1980s. They were not as accurate as today's maps, plus streams and lakes may have changed since then, either naturally or by human intervention.

"The work with landowners will continue," Jaschke said.

It is not just the new state law landowners must follow.

"Many local buffer ordinances have already gone beyond the minimum state standard established through this process," Dave Leuthe of the DNR said.

Landwehr said that while southwest Minnesota waters are the most polluted, with swimming prohibited in much of the water and officials recommending that fish from there not be eaten, buffers are needed throughout the state.

"Public waters and public ditches are scattered all around the state," the commissioner said.

Private ditches are not included in the buffer law, although there are disagreements about what is public and what is private.

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Buffer map online: www.mndnr.gov/buffers .

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