Buffers

Cottonwood Compliance Monitoring Plan
The Buffer Law requires that SWCD’s monitor compliance of the buffers in the county and are required to post a monitoring plan on their website. Please see the following document regarding the monitoring plan for Cottonwood County.

Cottonwood SWCD Compliance Monitoring Plan

2015 Buffer Legislation

In June of 2015, Governor Dayton signed into law a new buffer initiative aimed at enhancing protection of Minnesota’s P1010713waters.  The buffer initiative will help protect the state’s water resources from erosion and runoff pollution by establishing roughly 110,000 acres of buffer along waterways. An amendment to the law was adopted in April 2016 to help clarify certain points.

A recent study by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency has found few southwest Minnesota lakes and streams to be fishable and swimmable. A goal that the nation has been working towards since the 1972 Clean Water Act – to make our waters fishable and swimmable where we can.

The new law generated a significant amount of interest, and landowners likely have many questions about how it will impact their property.  The Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources (BWSR), which will oversee the process, is working to get program details underway. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has finished the maps pertaining to the buffer law and the buffer requirements as of February 28, 2017.

The law specifies November 1, 2017 as the deadline for establishment of 50-foot wide buffers on public waters and November 1, 2018 for 16.5-foot wide buffers on public drainage systems.

Our staff is here to provide technical assistance to our landowners to help you with the buffer process. Please call our office if you are interested in financial or technical assistance for your buffers. We have received more guidance on alternative practices allowed under the law and it does require us to complete a site visit to determine if we can use any of those alternative practices.

For more information about the Governor’s buffer law, please visit: http://bwsr.state.mn.us/buffers/

For more information on the DNR mapping process, please visit: http://www.dnr.state.mn.us/buffers/index.html

The DNR has provided a finalized map that is available online. DNR released the first update November 21, 2016 to the maps, the final major update was completed on February 28, 2017. Any further updates will be fine tuned periodically. For more information on this map, please visit: http://arcgis.dnr.state.mn.us/gis/buffersviewer/

Governor Dayton Press Release, January 29, 2016 regarding private ditches: Click Here

Buffer Video:

 The first deadline for buffers has come and passed (November 1, 2017) and the Cottonwood SWCD has recorded a video to help you with top of bank and a peek into alternative practices. The file for our video was a little too large to put directly on our website, but you can view it on YouTube HERE. These are real life scenarios right here in Cottonwood County to help our landowners with top of bank.

2017 Buffer Legislation Update

 At the end of the 2017 Legislation Session there were some minor alterations to the Buffer Law that we would like to clarify:

1. I heard the Buffer Law was extended, is that true?

Yes and no. The deadline for Public Waters is still November 1, 2017.  BUT…a landowner can apply for a waiver until July 1, 2018 or November 1, 2018 depending on what they are asking for. IF a landowner is pursuing financial or technical assistance through a program such as CRP, CREP, State Cost-Share, EQIP, etc the landowner can get an extension up to November 1, 2018. OR if a landowner is not using any federal/state/local programs for technical or financial assistance, then a landowner can get an extension until July 1, 2018 IF they file a parcel specific plan by November 1, 2017 (e.g. I will do X, Y, and Z by this date to become compliant with the buffer law).

2. I heard DNR removed a bunch of watercourses from the Buffer Map, am I affected?

In May, there was a list of waters throughout the State that were removed from the Buffer Map due to some discrepancies when the Public Waters Inventory was created in the early 1980’s. There were approximately 10 parcels affected in Cottonwood County, those landowners were notified directly via mail about those changes.

3. I heard about these alternative practices, what are they? Do I have to have a buffer then?

Yes, alternative practices are allowable under the Buffer Law since its inception in 2015. Alternative practices are management operations/structures that provide comparable water quality benefits of a buffer (reduce runoff and provide bank stability). A 6-pack of common alternative practices was released as guidance from the Board of Water and Soil Resources, which are now incorporated in the 2017 changes under the Law. Common alternative practices include the:
*393 NRCS Filter Strip Practice Standard – This looks at the resource concern and the buffer width is based on the contributing field runoff to buffer area as well as estimated soil loss from that field. This could mean a narrower buffer to provide the necessary filtering or it could require a buffer wider than 50 feet (large runoff areas and high erodibility).
*Negative slope – A public watercourse that has been altered and possibly straightened to have a negative slope that runs away from the stream/river could reduce the buffer width. Under this practice though, it will require buffers around any open intakes that capture water that would flow into the watercourse or a wider buffer area in that area where the runoff water may finally enter the stream.
*Grassed waterways – A common occurrence seen in the very headwaters of a stream course. Typically a defined channel is not present, but enough erosion can occur without the grassed waterway in place where a gully would form without the vegetation present.
*No till/Strip till/Cover Crops – This pertains to the whole field contributing to the buffer area. A landowner currently engaging in these management style practices may be eligible for a reduced buffer width. BUT, if these practices stop on that field then the parcel may be considered non-compliant because an alternative practice would no longer exist on the field. Something to keep in mind!
*MN Agricultural Water Quality Certainty Program (MAWQCP) – This is a voluntary program through the MN Dept of Ag in which a landowner can become “certified” for 10 years and are exempt/considered compliant with any new water quality laws/rules that may come into effect. If you are interested in this program, please stop by the SWCD and we will get you in contact with our Area Certification Specialist, Danielle Evers.

Overall, alternative practices require us to make a field visit to the buffers in question because each site is unique. Please contact us to set up a field visit, we highly recommend that you do not assume you are compliant. Structural practices must meet the NRCS Field Office Technical Guide Specs or signed off by an engineer if they are not. Everyone will still have a buffer regardless of having an alternative practice or not, it just may be a reduced buffer width when incorporating an alternative practice.

Buffer Initiative Workshops

Didn’t get a chance to make it to one of the Buffer Workshops held in July? That’s ok! We have made them into a PDF for you to access.
Buffer Presentations – Click on the link to the left!

Buffer Compliance

SWCD staff have been working diligently with landowners to complete maps of areas needing a buffer. Currently staff is taking individual landowner requests for specific parcels to determine preliminary compliance on parcels. If you are interested in having SWCD staff look at your parcels please contact us to get on our list, we are roughly 1-2 weeks out for requests during high request volumes.

We will be tracking compliant parcels (as required by Statute) and landowners can request a validation of compliance if they desire.

Staff have completed preliminary mapping of top of bank and this has greatly sped up the process to get maps out to our landowners/operators. Some things to remember in regards to the maps: (1) we probably did not make a field visit to make your map, if you would like us to come out to verify please let us know; (2) we realize the maps are not perfect, but it is a place to start when a landowner/operator stops in the office to talk about their parcels; (3) if you would like us to flag your property for buffer requirements please see below about onsite visits.

On Site visits

The Cottonwood SWCD has adopted a policy at the October 2016 and updated in May 2017 board meeting that landowners requesting SWCD staff to come out and flag the required buffer areas that are not enrolled in a program such as CRP or State Cost-Share will be required to pay a fee of $75 per tax parcel. Money is required prior to staff going out to the field for flagging and must be during non-crop times.

Alternative Practices

BWSR has released guidance documents for SWCD’s in regards to common alternative practices. There is more information coming to us every week about this as well. Alternative practices will require you to give us more information about your farming operation than just doing a buffer map. In order to approve an alternative practice it must be comparable to a buffer under the language of the statute. This means we may need you to tell us your tillage management, herbicide/pesticide/fertilizer application, etc to run the appropriate models. If you have engineered structures you would like to have accounted for you will need to provide the documentation to prove it was built to NRCS practice standard from their Field Office Technical Guide. If you had NRCS funding to install it, it will likely be ok, but if not, then a professional engineer (at the cost of the landowner) will need to provide documentation that it is equivalent to the NRCS standard. This also does not mean there will be NO buffer, the alternative practice guidance will still require some buffer in these cases because the law also stipulates bank stability as well as overland runoff protection.

MORE BUFFER INFORMATION: More buffer information is now available on the BWSR website with policies adopted by the State related to the buffer law. Included is information on how to measure, where to measure, etc. Please check out http://www.bwsr.state.mn.us/buffers/ , this is also the same policy the SWCDs will be using!