Gov. Mark Dayton didn't get everything he wanted in his signature effort to protect the state's waters from agricultural pollution. But he made progress.
A law passed in the Legislature's final hours will require landowners, primarily farmers, to install protective strips of grasses or trees along every foot of the state's major streams and rivers, and give the Department of Natural Resources enforcement powers.
But, in response to pushback from farm groups, the law provides landowners the flexibility to adapt buffers to particular locations. It requires buffers with an average width of 50 feet along a waterway, and a minimum of 30 feet. It doesn't apply to the state's smallest streams, which research suggests need buffers the most.
Local governments will eventually be responsible for establishing buffers along those, once the state's waters have been mapped. Then they can decide between mandatory and voluntary strategies to promote compliance.
The law, however, is not a done deal. It passed both houses, but its funding comes from a bill that failed to pass the Senate.
Meanwhile, some DFL legislators and environmental groups are urging Dayton to veto the entire environmental policy bill because it contains many provisions they find unacceptable, including the buffer rules.
The Minnesota Environmental Partnership described the buffer law as "insufficient," and Friends of the Mississippi River said that while it's a step in the right direction, it doesn't do nearly enough.
"We are extremely grateful to the governor for being such a champion for our waters," said Whitney Clark, executive director of Friends of the Mississippi. "It's unfortunate that it is not stronger."
Farm groups, which said they wanted more input on how the law came together, were also lukewarm on the final version.
Joe Smentek, director of environmental affairs for the Minnesota Soybean Growers Association, said local soil and water conservation districts won't get enough money to implement it or provide financial assistance for farmers who need it.
Smentek also said the law places too much emphasis on buffers as the solution to water quality problems, and that each watershed should have local flexibility.
As for farmers, he said, "It's going to be a mixed bag on how they accept it."