Buffer law enforcement starting in Lyon County this spring

MARSHALL — Between public waters and drainage ditches in the Lyon County Soil and Water Conservation District, the district is around 80 percent compliant with Minnesota’s buffer law, SWCD Administrator John Biren said. But updates to those figures — as well as enforcement of the buffer law — will come after a pictometry flight sometime this spring.

Biren reported on the state of buffers in the county Tuesday morning, as part of a broader annual report on Lyon County Planning and Zoning, the Lyon County SWCD, and county ditches.

Lyon County opted to be the local authority for enforcing the buffer law in 2017. The Yellow Medicine River Watershed District, which includes part of Lyon County, also opted to have local jurisdiction over ditches and bodies of water in its boundaries.

The buffer law, which went into effect last year, calls for buffer strips of vegetation to be planted around drainage ditches and public bodies of water.

The SWCD is currently about 85 percent compliant with the buffer law for public waters, and about 67 percent compliant for ditches, Biren told Lyon County commissioners. The county was probably around 80 percent compliant overall, he said. In addition, Biren’s report said about 5 to 10 percent of non-compliant landowners have indicated they would seed buffer strips when they were able.

In 2018, the SWCD also had a number of contracts for buffer cost-sharing. A total of 25 cost-share contracts were paid, for a total of about $5,880, Biren’s report said. Four other cost-share contracts were unpaid, the report said.

While he said it wasn’t a task he was looking forward to, Biren said the SWCD would be keeping track of buffer compliance this year. Compliance would be reported based on aerial photos taken by a new pictometry flight this spring.

The prospect of enforcing buffer compliance had county commissioners asking questions Tuesday. Commissioner Gary Crowley asked if the county had the authority to destroy crops planted out of compliance with the buffer law.

Biren said that was an authority he didn’t want to use.

“Our buffer ordinance is a monetary fine,” Biren said.

The county buffer ordinance gives the county the power to charge monetary penalties to landowners for every six months they are out of compliance. However, there are no penalties for up to 11 months of noncompliance.