Why the “Minnesota Buffer law” for waterways is a good thing for you, me, and ultimately the farmers too

Back in 2015, Gov. Dayton of Minnesota passed the “Minnesota Buffer Law.”

What does this entail? 

The law, “Requires that landowners around certain surface waters maintain vegetative buffer strips, with a goal of protecting waterways from erosion and runoff pollution, stabilizing shore, and providing riparian corridors.

“Around Public Water landowners must maintain a buffer with a 50’ average width and 30’ minimum width. 

“A buffer is an area consisting of perennial vegetation, excluding invasive plants and noxious weed, adjacent to all bodies of water within the state and that protects the water resources of the state from runoff pollution; stabilizes soils, shore, and banks; and protects or provides riparian corridors.”

(Minn. Stat. 103F.48 subd. 1(c)).

What does this mean??

It’s OK.  This is a good thing….

The US dept of Agriculture and Minnesota released an article entitled, “Natural Resources Conservation Service Conservation Practice Standard,” and gave these reasons on why the buffer zone is beneficial:

  • Reduces soil erosion and sedimentation

  • Improve water quality

  • Improve air quality

  • Enhance wildlife habitat

  • Improve soil quality

  • Manage plant pests

Sounds great!

With my company, Landbridge Ecological, we deal directly with these native wetland plants, and we get to see firsthand how these amazing interactions take place. 

For this article, I’d like to focus on water quality, and how would a buffer help improve water quality anyway?

Starting out, the processes that operate within our native wetlands, that work to remove excess nitrates (fertilizer) and other harmful chemicals from our watersheds, are very complex and sensitive. 

 Source: http://www.wetlands-initiative.org/nutrient-removal/

Source: http://www.wetlands-initiative.org/nutrient-removal/

This image details the plant’s ability to remove harmful chemicals, filter, and recycle them back out into the atmosphere through a process termed denitrification.   But plants don’t do this alone.  They receive plenty of help from heterotroph (organisms that ingest or absorb inorganic Carbon) microbes that also help to recycle these nutrients. 

For a more detailed look, here is an article from the University of Purdue: 

  • “Nitrates are lost from upland sites primarily through subsurface drainage. In the wetland, nitrates are absorbed by plants or converted (through an anaerobic process called denitrification) to nitrogen gas and lost to the atmosphere. Nitrate-N is efficiently removed from wetland surface waters by aquatic plants.

  • Ammonium-N enters wetlands primarily through surface runoff. In the wetland, ammonia is absorbed by plants or converted to nitrogen gas through volatilization. Nitrification can also occur, changing ammonia into nitrites and nitrates. The nitrate form of nitrogen is more readily removed from surface water by wetland plants than the ammonium form.

  • Phosphorus, organic nitrogen and some metals (iron or aluminum) usually attach to sediment and are carried by runoff to the wetland. By holding water, a wetland allows sediment and large particles to settle on the wetland bottom. The root systems of wetland plants then absorb nutrients from the sediment. Much like phosphorus, some pesticides also bind to sediment materials. Surface runoff carries the sediment materials to the wetlands and deposits them on the wetland bottom.” (https://www.extension.purdue.edu/extmedia/WQ/WQ-10.html).

The MN Buffer Zone law isn’t perfect. 

There are four options for farmers to plant within the buffer zone, and one of the options includes hay and forage crops which would then encourage grazing close to these same waterways we’re trying to keep clean, and animal waste contributing to the pollution.

Do farmers use slow release Nitrogen fertilizers that are more stable and able to be absorbed easier than before?  Yes.

Do they own technology that allows them to test the soil, check the nitrogen content, and ensure not to overspray?  Yes.

But, I see more benefits for the buffer zone, than I do against. 

Watersheds and wetlands should always be looked at as sensitive sites.  There’s a lot going on naturally that helps to improve our livelihoods.  The Minnesota Buffer Law is a step in the right direction. 

Remember, we’re more connected than we think…

water cycle.jpg

Here is a helpful Q & A article demonstrating expectations from the Minnesota Corn Growers Association: 

http://www.mncorn.org/2016/05/09/everything-you-need-to-know-about-minnesotas-buffer-laws/