Minnesota Statewide Buffer Program

BuffersImage courtesy of Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources

The word Minnesota comes from the Dakota Indian word for “clear water”, yet in the land of 10,000 lakes (and many more than 10,000 waterways), much of the State’s water would now be described as anything but clear. Pollution ranging from agricultural runoff to coal ash to industrial spills and leaks threatens fish and wildlife, as well as human health (not to mention the State’s incredible natural beauty).

Road salt (more specifically the chloride within it) as well as nitrate and phospohorous runoff from agricultural areas flows into the state’s lakes and streams. Fertilizer and leaky septic systems cause algae blooms that can foul natural habitats and impair waterways. State scientists testing remote waters have found pollutants such as pharmaceuticals and illicit drugs (including street drugs like cocaine) as well as a range of chemicals like DEET, disinfectants and more.

Recognizing the importance of the State’s water quality, Governor Mark Dayton has focused his efforts on the development and implementation of a comprehensive riparian buffer program. In 2015, he signed into law the Minnesota Statewide Buffer Program, establishing a requirement that landowners install perennial vegetation buffers of up to 50 feet along rivers, streams and ditches to filter out sediment and improve water quality.

Screen Shot 2017-04-24 at 8.41.08 PMAn interactive map was developed by Minnesota’s Department of Natural Resources to help guide the implementation of the State’s buffer law. 

As described by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, “Conservation buffers slow water runoff, trap sediment, and enhance infiltration within the buffer. Buffers also trap fertilizers, pesticides, pathogens, and heavy metals, and they help trap snow and cut down on blowing soil in areas with strong winds. In addition, they protect livestock and wildlife from harsh weather and buildings from wind damage. If properly installed and maintained, they have the capacity to:

  • remove up to 50 percent or more of nutrients and pesticides.
  • remove up to 60 percent or more of certain pathogens.
  • remove up to 75 percent or more of sediment.

Conservation buffers reduce noise and odor. They are a source of food, nesting cover, and shelter for many wildlife species. Buffers also provide connecting corridors that enable wildlife to move safely from one habitat area to another.

Conservation buffers help stabilize a stream and reduce its water temperature. Buffers also offer a setback distance for agricultural chemical use from water sources.”

A recent EPA study estimated that, on average, every $1 spent on source water protection saves $27 on water treatment. If ever there was an apt usage of the phrase, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”, this would certainly be it. Rather than treating our waterways as waste disposal, we’d do well to realize their importance to our overall community health and take care of them. With common sense solutions like conservation buffers, we can begin to implement good stewardship practices for our natural environments before its too late.

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