Water News for the New Year

Government is often accused of moving slowly, but when it comes to protecting Minnesota’s lakes, rivers, streams and groundwater, change and action are happening rapidly, both locally and across the state. Last summer, Governor Mark Dayton signed landmark legislation into law when he created the Buffer Initiative. The new law requires vegetated buffers an average of 50-feet wide (30-feet minimum) along lakes, rivers and streams, as well as 16.5-foot wide buffers along public ditches by November 2017 and 2018, respectively. Along with this law came updates to soil erosion statutes to provide better enforcement against major soil loss. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is currently working to create maps of the public waters and drainage systems that will require buffers.

This month, Governor Dayton announced plans to hold a statewide water summit on Feb. 27 at the InterContinental in St. Paul. Registration filled within days of the announcement, but the Governor’s office is still collecting input through a short on-line survey.

Meanwhile, the Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources (BWSR) has announced recipients for its latest round of Clean Water grants. The funding comes from the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment, approved by voters in 2008. Last year, BWSR awarded $14 million to water quality and habitat improvement projects that will keep 25,000 tons of sediment and 21,500 pounds of phosphorus out of Minnesota waters each year. This year, BWSR awarded 64 new grants totaling $11.7 million. Seven of the projects are in areas draining directly or indirectly to the St. Croix River, including: funds to help the Middle St. Croix Watershed Management Organization install raingardens and other low impact development practices in the Stillwater and Bayport area; support to help the Washington Conservation District capture more phosphorus in agricultural projects; wetland rehabilitation projects on Moody Lake and Forest Lake, to be implemented by the Comfort Lake – Forest Lake Watershed District; and funding to help the South Washington Watershed District install right-of-way raingardens and iron enhanced sand filters to improve Colby, Wilmes, and Powers Lakes in Woodbury.

In 2015, BWSR worked with landowners and local government partners to place over 11,000 acres of land into privately held conservation easements through the Reinvest in Minnesota (RIM) Reserve Program. Over the next two years, BWSR will also be providing $22 million to SWCDs in Minnesota to boost their local capacity and accelerate work to protect, restore, and enhance Minnesota’s natural resources.

In addition to new legislation and more funding, Minnesota has also launched a new Agricultural Water Quality Certification Program to be implemented by the Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) in partnership with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, BWSR, the DNR, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), and local partners. The voluntary program uses a whole-farm assessment to certify farmers and landowners for managing their land in a way that protects water quality. The assessment looks at physical field characteristics, nutrient management, tillage management, pest management, irrigation and tile drainage, and conservation practices.  Interested landowners in Washington County should contact the Washington Conservation District to learn more (Tara Kelly – tkelly@mnwcd.org or 651-330-8220  x. 43).

Locally, watershed management organizations – Brown’s Creek, Carnelian-Marine-St. Croix, Middle St. Croix, South Washington, and Valley Branch – are all in the process of updating their 10-year management plans. These plans outline strategies for preventing flooding and improving local water quality in rivers, lakes and streams. In addition, many of the new plans will incorporate emerging concerns such as protecting groundwater, preventing and controlling aquatic invasive species, and providing habitat for wildlife and pollinators.

Here’s to a new year with cleaner water and healthier habitat!