About 200 people packed an auditorium today at the Hormel Nature Center in Austin for a chance to weigh in on DFL Gov. Mark Dayton's plan to require 50-foot buffer strips around the state's lakes, rivers, streams and ditches.
Dayton told the crowd action has to be taken to deal with the state's deteriorating water quality. He cited a recent Minnesota Pollution Control Agency report that found of the 93 stream sections analyzed in southwest Minnesota, only three can support aquatic life and one is suitable for swimming.
"I'm not trying to come in and muck up people's live or anything else, but the fact is things are not getting better. They are getting worse and more polluted," Dayton said.
The governor's plan would require 50 feet of perennial vegetation around the state's lakes, rivers and streams. The goal of these buffer strips would be to help filter out contaminates like phosphorus, nitrogen and sediment from water runoff. In total, it would establish an additional 125,000 acres of buffer strips statewide.
Farmers told the governor they have serious concerns with his plan. Mark Nowak, who farms land south of Wells, said he has already installed 33-foot buffers along a ditch on his property. But he said it's become clear to him that most of the water run off that enters the ditch comes from properties on higher ground — not his farm. He said under the governor's plan, he'd be required to take another eight acres of land worth $64,000 out of operation while his neighbors wouldn't have to contribute anything.
"I think you need to slow down with this whole project and do some studying," Nowak said.
Dayton's proposal won strong praise from some in the audience — including Jeff Broberg, president of the Minnesota Trout Association. Broberg said it's not unreasonable to require 50-foot buffers around these waterways, noting that 100-foot buffers are recommended around trout streams. He said there remains some farmers who are simply unwilling to take steps to improve water quality.
"They seem to have adopted a view that it's OK to contaminate our water to grow food. I think we have to have a different paradigm here. We have to protect our water first. We can't live without that resource," Broberg said.
That drew a strong response from Minnesota Corn Growers President Bruce Peterson. He said farmers are doing their part to help clean up the state's lakes, rivers and streams.
"If it's about water quality, I can assure you we are aggressively working on that, and it really gets my blood boiling when I hear people saying we're not doing anything about that," Peterson said.
For more coverage from the meeting, check out tomorrow's Post-Bulletin.
(Photo by PB photographer Elizabeth Nida)