Minnesota Passes Law Requiring 50-Foot Stream Buffers

On June 13, Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton signed into law legislation requiring new perennial vegetation buffers of up to 50 ft (15 m) along rivers, streams, and ditches. The new law, S.F. 5, is expected to designate an additional 44,515 ha (110,000 ac) of land for water quality buffer strips.

S.F. 5 requires 50-ft buffers on all public waters, including lakes, rivers, and streams. The law also requires buffer strips of 16.5 ft (5 m) around all public ditches. Currently, just 20% of Minnesota’s public ditches are required to have this buffer. Buffer widths will depend on the type of waterway each landowner is charged with protecting, depending on whether it is public water, a public ditch, or “other” waters. Requirements on other waters will be set by local soil and water conservation districts with input from landowners.

Buffers on public waters should be constructed by November 2017, and buffers for public ditches should be in place by November 2018.

According to a fact sheet issued by the governor’s office, the legislation provides more than $33 million in additional financial support for landowners to install and maintain buffers on their properties. It also provides additional resources for local soil and water conservation districts to provide technical support for landowners to help them comply with the law.

Also in June, the Georgia Supreme Court ruled that the state’s 25-foot (7.6 m) protective buffer requirement for state waters does not apply to wetlands. In Georgia, buffers are measured horizontally from point of wrested vegetation, which means where vegetation stops growing as a result of water flow or wave action. Wetlands, however, lack a wrested vegetation line. According to the state Environmental Protection Division (EPD), the state Supreme Court ruling affirms the way the division currently enforces the buffer provision for wetlands.

In the spring of 2015, the Georgia legislature did act to include buffer protections for coastal saltwater marshes, and the EPD-drafted rule will take effect Dec. 31.

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