The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Special Report: Amber Waves to Muddy Waters

December 12, 2011

Special Report: Day 3: Many county rivers, streams and lakes without buffer zone

The state regula­tions are clear: If you have land in agricultural use along a stream, river or lake, you need to have at least a 50-foot grass buffer strip along the river bank or edge of the lake to reduce erosion, runoff and pollution.

But enforcement of the rule
has been nearly nonexistent. Many counties say they simply don’t have the staff or resources to enforce the rules and opposition from landowners can make it an issue elected county commissioners would rather avoid. Still, some larger counties are taking action, helped by new technology that makes it easier to find those not following the rules.

“ There is a lot of shoreline in the county. A lot of it’s not accessible. It’s on private land and there aren’t roads to it,” said Julie Conrad, Blue Earth County’s land use and natural resources planner.

The county, in conjunction with the local Soil and Water Conservation District, turned to GIS mapping — including new high- quality aerial photos of the entire county — to first locate all shorelines and then see who was out of compliance.

The county identified 368 miles of rivers and streams, 186 miles of unnamed streams and 43 lakes.

There also are channelized streams where landowners dug out shallow streams so they would carry more drainage water.

Most counties don’t know how many channelized streams on private land exist as most were done many decades ago prior to permitting requirements and over­sight.

The good news, Conrad said, is that compliance is relatively high with an estimated 94 percent of agricul­tural shoreline protected by a buffer. That’s a far higher
rate of compliance than a few other counties that have made an effort to track buffer strips.

Part of the reason for better compliance is the steep ravines that lead up to many farm fields in this area.

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Special Report: Amber Waves to Muddy Waters