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Watershed suspends sign-up for incentive payments

WORTHINGTON -- With many questions still surrounding Minnesota's new buffer law, such as where buffers are required and aren't needed, the Okabena-Ocheda Watershed District took action earlier this week to suspend sign-up of any new landowners in...

WORTHINGTON - With many questions still surrounding Minnesota’s new buffer law, such as where buffers are required and aren’t needed, the Okabena-Ocheda Watershed District took action earlier this week to suspend sign-up of any new landowners interested in the district’s filter strip incentive program.

For years, the OOWD has offered an incentive - on top of Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) payments - to landowners within the district who install filter strips along water courses. Now, with the state requiring 50-foot buffers along certain water courses - and 16-foot buffers along ditch systems - board members want to make sure they aren’t paying incentives for landowners who are required by state law to have buffers in place.
The suspension will remain in place until the watershed district gets clearer direction from the state, though plans are to discuss the incentive program at the board’s July meeting, if not sooner. Landowners have until the end of September to enroll land or re-enroll expiring contracts in CRP, so a summertime decision by the watershed district provides them enough time to weigh their options.
“I think we want to continue the incentive program, but I don’t think we should sign up anyone new until we know what the buffer initiative means,” said Casey Ingenthron, OOWD board member, in presenting the motion.
The Nobles Soil and Water Conservation District has been tasked with proofing the maps designating where buffers are and are not required. Nobles SWCD Manager John Shea said he hopes to have the information by early summer, unless something changes with the law when the state legislature meets in March.
OOWD Administrator Dan Livdahl told board members landowners won’t be plowing up filter strips next spring if they’re enrolled in CRP.
“If we have a policy before July, we should be safe,” he said. “In the meantime we can say to people, ‘We don’t know yet - we don’t know what the buffer law is going to say.’”

“The worst thing I can say is, ‘Yes, you’re going to get a payment,’ and then not have a payment,” he added.
Board member Rolf Mahlberg said, “I appreciate the fact that, as a board, we’re stewards of taxpayer funds. I can appreciate that this board not use its resources on a mandated program. I get that.”
Livdahl said that as soon as the list of DNR-protected waters and buffer requirements is available, he will compare it with existing filter strips to determine what is eligible for a watershed incentive payment.
“There are a whole bunch (of CRP filter strips getting watershed incentive payments) that expire next year,” Livdahl said. “Most of those are probably not (along) protected waters.”
In other action, the board:

  • Approved a 2 percent cash raise for the watershed administrator and an $1,800 contribution to the administrator’s health savings account. The raise brings the administrator’s annual salary to $53,973.
  • Approved the 2016 budget of $209,050. Revenues will include a $190,000 district levy, reimbursements from the Worthington Stormwater Program and Clean Water Partnership, permit inspection fees, property income, investment interest and miscellaneous income. Major expenditures include personnel, filter strip incentive payments, watershed projects, district cost-share and office and board-related expenditures, among others.
  • Received an update from Nobles County Environmental Services Director Wayne Smith on changes to the county’s feedlot ordinance. The county’s planning commission will discuss the ordinance at its Dec. 9 meeting, and have it ready to present to the Nobles County Board of Commissioners in late January.
  • Approved a construction permit for Doug Nau for a development near the intersection of Seventh Avenue and Lake Street.
Related Topics: WATERSHED
Julie Buntjer became editor of The Globe in July 2021, after working as a beat reporter at the Worthington newspaper since December 2003. She has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism from South Dakota State University.
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