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Minnesota group launches ‘Buffers Now!’ campaign

MONTEVIDEO -- A local organization promoting water quality in the upper Minnesota River basin has launched a campaign to support Gov. Mark Dayton's proposal for 50-foot buffers along waterways.

MONTEVIDEO - A local organization promoting water quality in the upper Minnesota River basin has launched a campaign to support Gov. Mark Dayton’s proposal for 50-foot buffers along waterways.

State Rep. Paul Torkelson, R-Hanska, is scheduled to introduce a buffer bill to the House Environment and Natural Resources Committee at a hearing today in the state capitol.
“We strongly support buffer legislation,’’ said Ariel Herrod, of Clean Up our River Environment, based in Montevideo. The local organization hosted a meeting last week of members supporting its “Buffers Now!” campaign. Supporting the legislation to be introduced this week is the first priority, Herrod said.
The legislation calls for 50-foot buffers along “perennial waters,’’ or those public waters that have flows during the majority of the growing season. It sets a Sept. 1, 2016 target for installing the buffers of perennial-rooted plants.
The legislation places responsibility on Soil and Water Conservation Districts in counties to provide assistance to landowners to install buffers. They could delegate that responsibility to another entity.
The legislation allows for exemptions to the requirement, such as in cases where a 50-foot buffer would not protect or improve water quality. Land placed in a buffer remains private. The draft of the legislation states that landowners are not limited in their use, which suggests that they could harvest alfalfa or graze livestock on them.
The commissioner of natural resources would issue orders to correct violations, and could withhold funding to soil and water conservation districts or their delegates failing to implement the requirement.
Dayton proposed the 50-foot buffer requirement Jan. 16 in an address to sports and conservation groups at the Minnesota Department of Natural Resource’s annual roundtable. He said the proposal would improve water quality and provide an estimated 125,000 acres of habitat to benefit wildlife.
Herrod said many farmers in the upper Minnesota River Valley have already installed buffers. The campaign to support the legislation will emphasize that this all about fairness. It’s not fair that some can get away with not respecting the shared resources of water and land while others have chosen to do the right thing, she explained.
While Herrod said she cannot predict how the legislation will be received, she pointed out that the proposal for buffers has generated lots of enthusiasm among members of the local organization. Many of CURE’s members have asked how they can help promote it, and it has helped energize interest in promoting water quality, she said.

Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoors reporter for the West Central Tribune.
He has been a reporter with the West Central Tribune since 1993.

Cherveny can be reached via email at tcherveny@wctrib.com or by phone at 320-214-4335.
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