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Scott Rall: Efforts on behalf of water are in full swing

Scott Rall The elevated attention to the state's water quality continues to grow. The legislature did its very best to roll back or kill the Governors buffer law that passed in 2015, and did so, thankfully, with limited success. There was a one y...

Scott Rall

The elevated attention to the state’s water quality continues to grow. The legislature did its very best to roll back or kill the Governors buffer law that passed in 2015, and did so, thankfully,  with limited success. There was a one year delay on implementation on buffers adjacent to public ditches but the requirements to plant vegetation adjacent to public waters still has to be in place by November 1st 2017.

The law is far different from the one the Governor had originally intended. First they removed private ditches from the law. I think this is OK unless that private ditch runs into a public ditch and then into a public water. Guess what almost all private ditches do? They ultimately run into a public water. This removal was not in the best interests of improving water quality.

The removal of the private ditches reduced the amount of water protection by almost 40% depending on who you listen to. They also added a large variety of optional practices that could substitute for a grass buffer. These were just recently released and in many cases producers will be able to use them instead.

Optional practices are also just fine if they can produce the same water quality improvement outcomes. Only time will tell. The fact that the quality of the water in Minnesota has declined is clear to all. The fact that there are no fishable or swimable lakes or streams in southwest Minnesota is also a fact according to the EPA.

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All of these efforts are working in the right direction. Additional funds have become available to help producers achieve compliance and this appears to be helping. The state’s effort to permanently protect 60,000 acres of riparian lands with CREP will also help. This is a multi-year process that pays landowners about $8,000 per acre to permanently stop farming sensitive acres near waters and retire them to grass forever.  

It is a voluntary program and with commodity prices as they are today the interest in this program is very high. This story too will be told over the next few years as sign-ups are completed. It is not as lucrative as in past years but is still not a bad rate of return for many.  CREP combines a 15 year CRP contract with a state perpetual easement that kicks in after the 15th year is up.  That easement payment is made in year one.

So, there are many things in the works as serious concerns rise about the state of the state’s water. In the land of 10,000 lakes most folks think there is no end to the water. Nothing could be farther from the truth.  Worthington finally got the money to hook up to the Lewis and Clark water systemic. This brings water from the Missouri River in central South Dakota because there is not enough water in southwest Minnesota for the few folks that live here. It cost many millions of dollars to deliver water from that distance.

Water resources are vital to all and I think that the old saying that whiskey is for drinking and water is for fighting will become the theme song in the decades ahead, as more people chase the rights to less and less water resources. Getting serious about conserving and protecting water is just getting started. Most of these efforts are about surface water. Underground water, sub-surface water is also big on the radar screen.

Cities pump underground water for new sub-divisions and the area lake levels are creeping to all time lows. Look to White Bear Lake in the metro as one of the biggest fights on this issue and that fight is only in round One.

Watersheds have for years operated as stand-alone entities to protect and improve local water resources. Public Utilities also do a good job of water protection. Standing alone is not getting us to where we need to be. I was asked to join the advisory committee of the One Watershed-One Plan program. This entity covers the entire Missouri River Watershed in Minnesota that covers Okabena-Ocheda, Kanaranzi-Little Rock and a large additional chunk of southwest Minnesota.

These individual entities are creating a bigger watershed wide effort to identify the local water concerns, create a plan and then implement that plan to concentrate water improvement dollars in the highest priority areas creating the greatest positive effect. I will keep you posted as this process continues. The plan is scheduled to be completed within 18 months.

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