There is still a lot of confusion with the Minnesota buffer law and just what practices are approved for the buffer strips. "Minnesota's buffer law is designed to be flexible while delivering improved water quality benefits for future generations" Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources Executive Director John Jaschke said. Because the buffer law was flexible, it has caused some confusion about what alternative practices are approved and who can approve them.

When the buffer law was moving through the legislature there was a lot of concern from landowners about a Minnesota governmental agency having so much authority and coming out with a "one size fits all" requirement. When the buffer law was passed, authority was given to local Soil and Water Conservation Districts to approve alternative conservation practices for their counties.

Who would know better than local SWCD supervisors and staff about what works best in their county? However, while the buffer law does give authority to local SWCDs to approve alternative practices, the law says alternative practices must also be approved by BWSR. Last week BWSR published a news release clarifying a number of alternative practices that would apply to a majority of buffer law requirements.

Many landowners have a private ditch on their land. When the drainage ditch was dug, the soil from the channel was put on each side of the ditch. A 'dozer was used to level the soil so the land could be farmed. The result was there is a berm or dike next to the ditch. Surface water from the field could not run into the ditch. BWSR refers to this as a "negative slope" by the ditch. Landowners were asking why do I need a 50-foot buffer strip when surface water from the field cannot run into the ditch?

Another common situation in southeastern Minnesota is a grass waterway running through a field to a low area in the field. Unlike a drainage ditch that has a channel with water running in it most of the year, these grass waterways seldom have water running in them. Maybe only a few times a year after a heavy rain will they have water in them. Again, landowners were asking why do I need a 50-foot buffer strip along these grass waterways?

In response to these two common-sense questions, BWSR has approved alternative practices. Landowners still must work with their local SWCDs, which will evaluate each field, and if the practices prevent soil erosion and protect water quality they will be approved. As we move forward implementing the buffer law it is nice that landowners do have some input in what happens to their land.