You may have heard a few things about this new buffer initiative rolling out over the next two years here in Minnesota and the DNR releasing the much-anticipated Buffer Map. The map shows Minnesota waters that will require some form of protective vegetative buffer around them. Public waterways such as lakes, rivers, and streams represented with the blue lines will require a 50-foot buffer while the green lines, representing public ditches, will require a 16-½ foot buffer (also known as a rod).
The benefit that buffers can bring to surface water quality is not new science. This has been known and well documented by water quality experts and farmers for decades and many counties here in Minnesota had some kind of buffer law on their books. Although, enforcement was often inconsistent and each county varied greatly in their designations and specifics.
The good thing about the buffer initiative is the large uniformity that it could bring to water quality here in our state – tens of thousands of acres of potential pollinator habitat, reduced runoff of nutrients and sediment, while also providing flexibility for farmers.
Despite all the great benefits that perennial vegetative buffers will bring to our surface water quality over the coming decades, there are still some misconceptions about buffers and bad information floating around. Here are just a few of the benefits that we will get throughout Minnesota.
- A DNR study in 2007 found that a 50-foot buffer could reduce 50 percent of nutrients and pesticides running off the land, 60 percent of some pathogens, and 75 percent of sediment.
- Buffers provide forage, food, and shelter for a variety of birds, insects, and mammals.
- Buffers help to stabilize stream banks and help to control water temperature.
- Buffers help to reduce impacts from flooding and large rain events.
- Buffers provide corridors for wildlife.
Most people I talk to are happy about the buffer initiative and think it’s about time we did something here in Minnesota to begin addressing our surface water problems. But, not everyone is sold that this is going to help. As someone who enjoys fishing, kayaking, and camping on our beautiful lakes and rivers, I would have to disagree with that mentality. I think this is a great step in the right direction and sets a precedent that will help us with water quality policy and initiatives in the future.
The buffer initiative is proof that the people of Minnesota will not stand by as our water quality degrades and new lakes and streams are added to our impaired waters lists. This is also a great step towards addressing other water quality issues such as field tiling and thermal loading.
Now I ask that our elected officials and the good people of Minnesota be patient because buffers take time and the benefits will not happen overnight.