Gov. Dayton to agriculture–do your part to protect our waters

In a move to protect our water resources from erosion and runoff and to provide wildlife and aquatic habitat, Governor Dayton is proposing legislation requiring a 50-foot buffer of perennial vegetation around public waters. In the words of Dave Frederickson, Commissioner of Agriculture, buffers are needed to “help prevent the continued degradation of our waterways.”

Dave Orrick reporting for AGWEEK captured the Governor’s strong words as he challenged farmers to support his buffer plan.

Under the Governor’s proposal about 125,000 acres of land currently in farm production would be converted to permanent vegetation. Minnesota has approximately 27 million acres of farmland so the buffers would amount to about .4% of current farmland.

This proposal is, by far, the most significant action taken by a Governor to protect our waters since Governor Perpich signed the Groundwater Act in 1989. Other administrations–Carlson, Ventura and Pawlenty– have generally adhered to the message promoted by Big Chemical that farmers are great stewards and there are no significant water problems.

A recent report from PCA clearly showed that streams in heavily agricultural area in southwest Minnesota could not support aquatic life. An earlier PCA report on nitrogen showed that 72% of the nitrogen pollution in this state was from agriculture (February 20th post: Mn Drinking Water–under stress again) But in response to the Governor’s plan, House Speaker Kurt Daudt continued to deny any problem when he said that farmers “have employed practices in their farming to really respect our environment.”

On the other side there are a wide variety of statements of support from groups ranging from Conservation Minnesota to Pheasants Forever.

There is no easy compromise here. Expect this to be one of the last issues settled this session.