Buffer strips will produce mixed results
Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton is liable to bat .1000 with his buffer strip law as it pertains to wildlife habitat but how effective will his plan be in fighting the pollution of state waters?...
Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton is liable to bat .1000 with his buffer strip law as it pertains to wildlife habitat but how effective will his plan be in fighting the pollution of state waters?
Dayton is a pheasant hunter so when it was suggested that the state had opportunity to add around 110,000 acres of grass cover with enforcement of the buffer strip law he saw a good thing.
Unfortunately, it looks like buffer strips are only going to be marginally effective in combating water pollution. You can find plenty of experts that say it is a step in the right direction, but not a total solution.
A lot of sportsmen believe the teeth of the law were pulled last month when Dayton modified his approach by restricting the perennial vegetation buffers to public waters and ditches. It is believed to be a political move on Dayton's part. He bumped into a Republican threat to send the water quality projects in a forthcoming public works spending bill to the Deep Six.
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency has reported only three of the 93 streams they examined in southwestern Minnesota last year were safe for aquatic life and only one was safe for aquatic recreation - the result of nitrate pollution.
Who put a fire under the Republicans? The Farm Union and the Farm Bureau both opposed the original 50-foot buffer strip proposal so they might look like the culprits but no one should be too quick to put the crosshairs on them. Right after Dayton announced a plan to enforce buffer strip laws one farm group spokesman said farmers would be in favor of a plan that was carried out the right way. Many farmers felt a 50-foot buffer strip on both sides of a ditch was a little out of line.
But isn't giving ground to farmers going to hurt Minnesota's water quality? Aren't drainage tiles carrying most of the nitrates that end up in the rivers and lakes? Drainage tiles are buried out in fields and they are designed to take excessive water away from crop beds. Buffer strips can only catch some of these nitrates and the bacteria that removes them through denitrification also has its limits.
Farmers and livestock feedlot owners bear some of the responsibility, perhaps most of it, but lakeshore owners who over-fertilize and city sanitation systems also contribute to the problem. That takes in almost everyone and it gives the size of the problem a new perspective.
In 2008 Minnesota's Clean Water, Land and Legacy Act was passed by a majority of the voters. The people who voted for the legislation and the funds it has dedicated to the environment saw what was happening to Minnesota and wanted to change it, without politicians being able to play their usual games. Yet now we know we have not done enough. The "house" that is Minnesota still needs repairs.