Tell Legislators to Stop Attacks on Clean Water
Minnesota Trout Streams
Our trout streams are in trouble, because the dirt pollution would more than double under a plan to slash existing, 50 foot wide strips of plants along streams to just 16.5 feet.
The unplowed strips are called buffers, because they reduce the amount of dirt and other pollution that washes into streams from plowed fields.
Under the omnibus environment bills passed by both the full Minnesota House and Senate, streams and tributaries that have been protected as public waters for decades, with 50 foot wide buffers, would have them cut to just 16.5 feet, if they are not already covered in a shoreland zoning ordinance.
That means the 50 foot buffers would shrink to just 16.5 feet on some 2000 miles of streams in southeastern Minnesota, because most rural areas don’t have shoreland zoning.
See the map above, by our allies at the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy (MCEA).
Studies at the U of M and elsewhere prove that 50 foot buffer strips are the lowest cost and most effective strategy to filter out dirt running off farm fields (sediment). These buffers let only 20% of the dirt get through to a stream. However, shrinking the buffers as planned, would let 50% of the dirt get through.
Look at it another way: If current buffers let only 20 pounds of dirt wash into a stream, shrinking the buffers will let 50 pounds of dirt wash through. A vote to decrease a buffer is a vote to increase dirt pollution–by more than double.
This language is in the house and senate omnibus environment bills (SF723/HF888). Both bills have language that is different in other areas though, so there will have to be a conference committee of several senators and several representatives appointed. They’ll negotiate the final language in a bill, then bring it back to the house and senate for a final vote. If it passes, it goes to the governor. Governor Dayton has signaled he won’t sign any bills that significantly roll back buffer protections.
We hope the language is stricken from that final bill.
This isn’t the only bad plan at the state capitol.
They plan to roll back basic water protections, push an anti-public lands agenda and cut core funding from MN DNR and MPCA as well.
Legislators are claiming that they are not hearing from voters against this. We all need to speak up (again).
Please email or call this week.
Ask Your Legislators To:
- Leave existing buffer law alone – stop gutting the decades-old 50 foot buffers
- Fund DNR fish & wildlife management, including license fee increases
- Remove the anti-public land provisions from the Legacy and tax bills
How to Reach Your Legislator in 1 Minute:
Legislators listen most to their voters, not organizations. A short call or email by you can have a huge impact. Quickly get links to your legislators’ email and phone numbers using this legislative tool Here. Along with email information, their phone numbers are also provided and simple, short calls are very effective.
Background On Issues:
Removal of 50 foot Buffers From Trout Streams!
Minnesota has required 50 buffers on all trout streams, and other public waters, for more than 30 years.
In 2015 Governor Dayton pushed to extend buffers to drainage ditches and for better enforcement mechanisms.
Compliance with the buffer requirements is already 70% to 90%.
In places like the Whitewater River, watershed compliance with the 50 foot buffer requirement is more than 95%.
Ignoring this and any fairness to the vast majority of landowners, some legislators are trying to score political points with the few people who don’t want to follow the law, by using a backdoor to weaken buffer protections.
The language change was underlined in HF 888 (the Omnibus Environment bill). It seems like a simple housekeeping measure:
Article 2, Section 80:
Water resources riparian protection requirements on public waters and
public drainage systems.
(a) Except as provided in paragraph (b), landowners owning
property adjacent to a water body identified and mapped on a buffer protection map must
maintain a buffer to protect the state’s water resources as follows:
(1) for all public waters that have a shoreland classification, the more restrictive of:
(i) a 50-foot average width, 30-foot minimum width, continuous buffer of perennially
rooted vegetation; or
(ii) the state shoreland standards and criteria adopted by the commissioner under section
(2) for public drainage systems established under chapter 103E and public waters that
do not have a shoreland classification, a 16.5-foot minimum width continuous buffer as
provided in section 103E.021, subdivision 1. The buffer vegetation shall not impede future
maintenance of the ditch.
Most of rural Minnesota doesn’t have shoreland classification ordinances. They are generally used only in zoned urban areas.
The outcome is buffers shrink on all but a handful of urban trout streams, and 70% of all other streams and rivers. It’s done for the convenience of a tiny minority of people who want to rollback regulations for political points—even when those regulations have been proven to work at making our streams cleaner, over the last 30 years.
The research also shows you need buffers at least 50 feet wide to protect farm fields during floods. Skinny buffers don’t have enough plant roots to hold the soil in place, so farmland gets swept away. The existing buffers are good for farmers, and good for everyone else downstream.
Tell your legislators to stop this attack on clean water and public fisheries. Urge they remove Article 2, Sections 77 to 81 of HF888.
Cuts to DNR’s Base Budget and Failure to Include License Fee Increases
Fish and wildlife management activities by DNR are paid for by license buyers, not with general tax revenues. The state fund used to deposit license fees and pay for fish and wildlife management (Game & Fish Fund) is projected to go into the red by 2019. State law prohibits this, so fisheries programs must be cut unless revenue is increased. Due to the complexities of the state’s 2 year budgeting cycle and 8 month lag in any license fee increase, the Legislature must act this spring or fisheries management activities will be cut beginning this summer.
The citizen budgetary oversight committee asked DNR to develop the fee increase proposal. It would increase an annual fishing license by $3, from $22 to $25 and increase a deer hunting license from $30 to $34. These increases are needed just to keep fisheries programs funded at current levels. Amazingly the Legislature has not only ignored this need, but also cut the Fish & Wildlife Division’s base funding by $5 Million! This one-two punch will dramatically impact our fishing quality as soon as this July 1. Recent comments by one House leader suggest that the majority party intends to withhold base funding and fee increases – effectively holding anglers hostage – until it exacts some policy concessions from the Governor and DNR. HF 888 is loaded with bad environmental policy that should not become law. Tell your legislators to stop holding anglers and hunters hostage – restore the Fish & Wildlife Division’s base funding and include the proposed license fee increases. More info is provided in the March 15 blog post on the MNTU website Here
Anti Public Land Provisions in the MN House Legacy Bill
The House version of the Legacy bill (HF 707) contains provisions aimed at hindering conservation and thwarting the will of voters who overwhelming passed a constitutional amendment dedicating a new tax to fund conservation work. One bill provision lets counties block the use Legacy funds for land/water protection by proclaiming “no net gain of public land” policies in counties. This will block acquisitions of high value conservation lands with Outdoor Heritage Fund money unless the state sells other state land in that county. Several bogus justifications have been offered, but the real motivation seems to be an anti-public lands, anti-government philosophy similar to what is being seen out West. It ignores the fact that more than a third of the “state owned lands” it demonizes are actually administered by counties and can be sold by the counties whenever they choose, including to prevent any net gain. There are other serious problems with the House bill, which are well explained in Dennis Anderson’s April 6 article in the Star Tribune. Read the article Here
Anti Public Land Provisions in the MN House Tax Bill
The House also inserted in its tax bill (HF 4) what many are referring to as the “trust fund Ponzi scheme” provision. It requires that for every acquisition made using Outdoor Heritage Funds, an additional 30% (roughly) of the purchase price be set aside in a sub-fund to be used not to protect, restore or enhance habitat, forests, prairies, etc., but to pay property taxes to counties forever. It also contains a “poison pill” provision which provides that if (when) this “trust fund Ponzi scheme” provision is declared unconstitutional, OHF funds can no longer be used for acquisitions. Please let your legislators know you object to their ignoring the constitution and will of the voters.
Send a Message to the Environment Chairs Too!
The Chairs of the House and Senate Environment committees are supposed to represents all Minnesotans, not just their districts. To let them know of your concerns contact:
Senator Bill Ingebrigtsen (R- Alexandria), Chair, Senate Environment & Nat. Resources Finance
Representative Dan Fabian (R- Roseau), Chair, Environment & Nat. Res. Policy & Finance
Make Noise Soon:
None of the bills are in final form and on the way to the Governor. There is time for one or both bodies to fix the problems. Many legislators claim that they are hearing no objections from their voters. Now is the time to make a little noise and tell them that we do not want these misguided roll backs of our basic water protections, agency authority and spending on the environment.
Water Action Day is April 19 in St. Paul – Join MNTU There:
Minnesota TU is partnering on this day of concentrated lobbying at the state capitol for clean water. MNTU’s executive director will be available to help you bend your legislators’ ears. Buses to the capitol are originating from 6 outstate areas: Austin; Houston – Winona; Marshall; Park Rapids; Bemidji; and Duluth.
To register and find details click Here.
Also, let MNTU’s Executive Director, John Lenczewski, know if you will attend, by emailing him at: firstname.lastname@example.org