Monday, December 21, 2015

Buffer strips on Minnesota waterways = overkill

There, maybe I got your attention. In no way am I saying that buffer strips aren't needed. They are needed. The one size fits all approach that Governor Mark Dayton has shoved down the throats of Minnesotans, though, is simply wrong. Dictating that open rural drainage ditches are subject to a 50 foot wide buffer strip (on both banks) is simply wasteful.

What the public and even Mark Dayton fails to understand is that when drainage ditches are initially dug and cleaned periodically, the soil removed is placed fairly close to the banks to create what is essentially a berm alongside the ditch. This berm acts as a barrier, preventing surface water from entering the ditch directly. Instead, the surface water must make its way through the soil to tile a few feet below the surface or through grass seeded waterways which also filter sediment, chemicals and any excess nutrients from the water before it enters the waterway.

In the case of the family farm where I grew up, there is a combination of grass waterways, tile, catch basins and berms to prevent runoff and water pollution. Oh, and buffer strips measuring some twenty feet wide.

Farmers, contrary to popular belief, do care about water quality and pollution. After all, they depend on that clean water just as much as their non-farming friends and neighbors.

Just this year, though, my family farm has been strictly told that in no way can they improve the water flow in their drainage ditch which stretches nearly a mile through the farm. Instead, it seems like various governmental agencies whom apparently control the rights of a privately-owned drainage ditch would rather have this ditch slowly fill with sediment which enters the drainage ditch through open road ditches and un-bermed naturally flowing areas of this particular drainage system. In the long run, such a scenario will lead to overland flooding which will push even more sediment, organic matter, chemicals and fertilizers into the very waterways the government has stated that they want to protect.

In an era where government increasingly doubts that the stewards of the land can actually do the right thing, the government themselves are the ones who will do longterm harm.

If Governor Mark Dayton and the various legislators who support the implementation of 50 foot buffer strips would look at the true source of erosion and pollution in our waterways, they would see that closer attention needs to be paid to the state's larger natural waterways.

Efforts to protect shorelines and banks of many areas along the Minnesota River should be one of the top priorities. Anyone who has witnessed the aftermath of a flood will tell you that a stable shoreline will at least begin to decrease the mass erosion events I have seen first hand along the Minnesota River. When a river bank collapses, that soil ends up in the river. Those are the scenarios where, at least during normal rainfall events, a berm and buffer strip combination would be beneficial. Without a berm, though, any amount of rainfall will take soil, chemicals, fertilizers and pollutants to streams and rivers rather quickly.

While agricultural practices have come a long way in the past twenty years, there is still room for improvement. I know that the voice of one person who has seen the value of a berm/sensible buffer strip combination will never change the minds of a politician who rarely ventures outside of the 494/694 loop. Maybe, though, common sense will prevail before a 200 acre farm loses an additional 17 acres due to the forced implementation of 50 foot wide buffer strips.

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