Dayton buffers

Clean Water Initiative Should Actually Work, Not Just Make Us Feel Good

In a recent Star Tribune article, “Farm Water Clean Up Project Falls Short, Critics Say,” Josephine Marcotty wrote that environmental critics disliked the Minnesota Agricultural Water Certification Program because it was “untethered” from water quality goals.  They also complained about the program because of lack of addressing nutrients lost through tiling of farm fields. The critics, some of whom are on the program’s advisory board, point to the large cost with no tying it back to water quality goals.

Joe Smentek

Director of Environmental Affairs Joe Smentek

Many of these same groups vigorously support Governor Dayton’s buffer initiative. According to Brad Redlin of the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, 100 percent of the farms certified under the program have buffers. Eleven participants in the program installed 68 acres of new buffers between them with five doing so with no financial assistance. 

The MAWCP is an example of a one-size-does-not-fit-all approach to water quality. Farmers work with soil and water specialists to ensure their farm is protecting water quality through a variety of measures.

Governor Dayton created a first step in water quality progress with the program. 

He then announced a one-size-fits-all, with exceptions, plan for buffers. The buffer plan is not tethered to water quality impairments and water quality goals. The plan does not account for stream bank erosion or nutrients in tile line running under buffers impairing waters. His plan will be expensive to implement with no plan on any tie back to water quality. Sound familiar?

The buffer initiative goes against decades of natural shoreline messaging from the DNR. The DNR has said that mowed grass is just as bad of a buffer as impervious surfaces are, yet the DNR supports a plan that allows mowed buffers.

 There are too many red flags to believe that this plan will actually address water quality in Minnesota. Clean water is a very emotional issue because we all want what is best, and we are eager to do something.  But we should not push through legislation that may do nothing more than make some people feel good.

These red flags show a need for a diverse group of individuals to work together on these issues. Counties have succeeded in this effort. Dakota County is held up as a shining example of getting buffers in place. Let’s not muddy the waters with more legislation, but get every county what they need to address water quality in their area. 

The Minnesota Soybean Growers Association encourages farmers to contact their local soil and water conservation specialists to see what measures and programs can be used on their farms to help protect their soils and Minnesota’s water.

Joe Smentek is an environmental attorney and is Director of Environmental Affairs for Minnesota Soybean Email him at