Ditch & River Buffers

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 public ditches. These buffers will help filter out phosphorus, nitrogen and sediment out of runoff. The deadline for implementation for buffers on public waters was November 1, 2017 and November 1, 2018 for those who applied for an extension. The deadline for public ditches was November 1, 2018. The law provides the possibility for landowners to install alternative practices with equivalent water quality benefits that are based on the Natural Resources Conservation Service Field Office Technical Guide.

Soil Water Conservation Districts (SWCDs) are reporting encouraging progress in their work with landowners around the state. Much more is needed to make the buffer law implementation process effective and sustainable in Polk County. Polk County is dominated by agriculture and has very little contour change in the western portion of our County. The lack of slopes is the major reason that so many public ditching systems exist which provide benefits for our area landowners and residents to allow runoff to flow off the landscape. Polk County is a part of 4 different watershed districts and has several major river systems that flow across the County. 

All rainfall which falls in Polk County enters the Red River in some manner and then flows north to Canada, specifically Lake Winnipeg, via the Red River of the North.

What Is a Buffer?

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.

Statute Language (Minnesota Section103F48, Subdivision 3)

A landowner owning property adjacent to a water body identified in a buffer protection map and whose property is used for cultivation farming may meet the requirements… …by adopting an alternative riparian water quality practice, or combination of structural, vegetative, and management practices, based on the Natural Resources Conservation Service Field Office Technical Guide or other practices approved by the board, or practices based on local conditions approved by the local soil and water conservation district that are consistent with the Field Office Technical Guide, that provide water quality protection comparable to the buffer protection for the water body that the property abuts. Included in these practices are retention ponds and alternative measures that prevent overland flow to the water resource.

Read the full Minnesota Section 103F.48, Subdivision 3.