Buffer systems keep water clean

by Daily Editorial Board

A recent study by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency found that southwestern Minnesota water bodies are in extremely poor condition. Of nearly 100 lakes and streams analyzed, only three streams were healthy enough to completely support aquatic life, and just one was able to support recreational activities. The poor state of water in this section of Minnesota is primarily due to agricultural pollution, for contaminants such as nitrates leach out of crop and livestock fields and into the water. The pollution is a problem not just locally but also nationally because the contaminated water eventually reaches the Gulf of Mexico. One way to alleviate water contamination is to establish vegetative buffers between agricultural fields and nearby water bodies. Fifty-foot-wide buffers are currently required by law in Minnesota, but the law is inconsistent and not widely enforced. A new bill in the Minnesota Legislature would make the current law more uniform and strengthen its implementation. However, farmers have objected that expanding the buffer system would be expensive and unnecessary in some areas. These are legitimate concerns, but they are addressed in the bill âÄî farmers would be able to receive financial and technical assistance. We believe better buffer zones are necessary to protect water quality, especially in Minnesota. While state officials should do all they can to work with farmers for the best solutions, passing this bill would be one way to help improve water bodies that have already been damaged.