Minnesota’s buffer law establishes new perennial vegetation buffers of up to 50 feet along lakes, rivers, and streams and buffers of 16.5 feet along ditches. These buffers will help filter out phosphorus, nitrogen and sediment. The deadline for implementation for buffers on public waters was November 1, 2017. The deadline for public ditches was November 1, 2018. The law provides flexibility for landowners to install alternative practices with equivalent water quality benefits that are based on the Natural Resources Conservation Service Field Office Technical Guide.
The Board of Water and Soil Resources (BWSR) reports that statewide 95.5% of parcels adjacent to Minnesota waters meet preliminary compliance with the law. Soil Water Conservation Districts (SWCDs) are reporting encouraging progress in their work with landowners around the state. View the buffer maps for a visual representation of the Minnesota Buffer Law.
A buffer, also known as a riparian filter strip, is vegetated land adjacent to a stream, river, lake or wetland. Buffers help filter out phosphorus, nitrogen, and sediment, and are an important conservation practice for helping keep water clean. Studies by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency show that buffers are critical to protecting and restoring water quality and healthy aquatic life, natural stream functions and aquatic habitat due to their immediate proximity to the water.
A wide range of vegetation can make a suitable buffer; to meet requirements the plants must be perennials. This includes hay and forage crops such as alfalfa and clover; woody vegetation; perennial grains that can be harvested later; and prairie vegetation. Farmers buying seed from a Minnesota company to plant buffers on their property can be assured the seed is free of 11 weed species considered “prohibited” in the state. These weeds include Palmer amaranth, leafy spurge, bindweed and several thistle species. The Minnesota Department of Agriculture works with County Ag Inspectors to sample and test thousands of seed mixtures sold in the state each year, ensuring the mixes are free of these prohibited weeds and meet Minnesota’s standards for quality. Farmers should purchase seed from a reputable company that holds a seed permit from the Minnesota Department of Agriculture to be sure this testing has taken place.