Minnesota board releases possible alternatives to public water buffers

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ST. PAUL — Landowners are learning what types of alternative practices will be allowed as options to meet Minnesota's new buffer law.

The Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources released a list of six possible options Thursday that are meant to serve as guidance to landowners considering alternative practices, according to John Jaschke, the board's executive director. He emphasized that the six options being announced now are not the only alternative practices that will be allowed.

He told reporters in a conference call that no permits or permission is needed to use the alternative practices. However, he encouraged landowners to contact their county Soil and Water Conservation Districts if they are going to be doing anything besides the prescribed buffer.

Landowners and farmers can request a validation of compliance from their local SWCD to assure that they are in compliance with the law, he added.

The new buffer law requires 50-foot buffers of perennial vegetation along public waters by Nov. 1, and one-rod — or 16½-foot — buffers along private ditches by one year later, Nov. 1, 2018.

The six alternative practices identified at this point are:

• Participation in the Minnesota Agricultural Water Quality Certification Program;

• Meeting the perennial cover requirements as described in the U.S. Department of Agriculture's technical guide for "conservation practice standard filter strips";

• Grassed waterway on public waters, such as in a headwaters area or where the flow is seasonal.;

• Negative slope on public ditches — allows for a smaller width of perennial cover, provided cover is located where water reaches the waterway;

• Negative slope on public waters (same as for above);

• Buffer plus conservation tillage.

In all of the options, Jaschke said the objective is to make use of alternative practices that provide equal or improved water quality. He noted that there are cases where prescribed buffers may not be the preferred or best practice to do the job.

Farmers in the state are making significant progress toward compliance with the buffer law, according to Dave Frederickson, Minnesota commissioner of agriculture. He heard pushback to the law during a series of Minnesota Farmers Union meetings conducted recently in the northwestern portion of the state.

But he told reporters during the conference call: "I think we're headed in the right direction. Minnesota understands we have a special obligation. We're a headwaters state stepping up to the plate.''