Buffers benefit everyone

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By Minnesota Environmental Partnership’s Lindsey Wilson – 

Last week I read an article in the Star Tribune entitled “In farm country, tainted water is ‘just the way it is’” (July 4) and feel the urgent need to respond. The headline and content of this piece struck a frustrated chord in me as one of several thousands of Minnesotans who values clean water and a healthy environment. Tainted water is certainly not ‘just the way it is’.

Water becomes contaminated due to agricultural, industrial, development, and other activities that create waste and byproduct that is not properly prevented or disposed of. Water pollution problems are often the result poor planning and a lack of strategic vision. We must not be so Minnesotan so as to shy away from pointing fingers at folks engaging in irresponsible activities that have consequences for all of us.  We need to stand up for ourselves, our families, and our communities and demand that our water – the foundation of wellbeing – is clean, healthy and safe.

In Minnesota non-point source runoff from agriculture is the most common cause of water pollution in Southeastern Minnesota. In fact, there are several communities who cannot even swim or drink their water as it has been deemed unsafe by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (see MPCA’s report Swimmable, fishable, fixable? What we’ve learned so far about Minnesota waters). Should farmers like those mentioned in the article avoid changing their behavior because it is easier for them to carry on maintaining the status quo? No. In fact, farmers and communities can only benefit from clean water and sustainable practices. Clean water is absolutely essential to grow healthy crops and vital for robust agricultural economies.

The good news is that in Minnesota we have a working plan and solution to prevent runoff pollution: buffers. Governor Dayton’s initiative to create a 50-foot buffer of vegetation along the shores of all Minnesota’s river, streams, and ditches is a commonsense solution to an everyday problem.  Buffers absorb and filter runoff of pollutants such as sediment, fertilizers and pesticides and stabilize stream banks and shorelines to prevent erosion.  In fact, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, buffers intercept surface runoff and remove up to 75% of sediment, 60% of some pathogens and 50% or more of fertilizers and pesticides before they end up in our lakes and waterways.  Plus, buffers provide critical habitat for many of Minnesota’s most beloved wildlife including pheasants, migratory songbirds and pollinators such as bees and butterflies.

With solutions like these at our fingertips, it makes sense to employ them. There is no reason to accept water pollution as the status quo and there is no excuse for poor planning. Starting this month, implementation efforts of Governor Dayton’s buffer initiative are underway to help farmers transition their land near streams and rivers.  I am excited to see the positive impacts these farmers will have on Minnesota’s cherished water.

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