The Clean Water Legacy Act, The Clean Water Accountability Act, and Non-Point Pollution Legislation, including the new 2015 Buffer Law are critical to protecting Lake Pepin. 

Clean Water Legacy Act

The Clean Water Legacy Act, passed in 2006, was established to protect, restore and preserve the quality of Minnesota’s surface waters. It emphasizes two important means by which local governmental units should attempt to achieve state water quality standards locally and downstream. The first is by enforcing existing nonpoint source pollution control regulation. The second is by coordinating local water planning with watershed planning among counties, SWCDs, watershed districts, watershed management organizations, state agencies and other governmental units as needed.

On the first point, the Clean Water Legacy Act instructs state agencies to “use existing regulatory authorities to achieve restoration for point and nonpoint sources of pollution where applicable, and promote the development and use of non-regulatory measures to address pollution sources for which regulations are not applicable (Minn. Stat. § 114D.20, subd. 3). In other words, government units should not only enforce current state rules on nonpoint source pollution, this case being sediment, but further, the county has a responsibility to encourage voluntary measures to address nonpoint source pollution where current regulations are not sufficient, or adopt specific local ordinances where necessary.

Clean Water Accountability Act (CWAA)

The Clean Water Accountability Act was passed to address previous TMDL processes that failed to inform subsequent mitigation activities. With collaboration among Minnesota environmental groups and championed by the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy (MCEA), the new legislation was successfully pass in 2013 and largely incorporated into the Clean Water Legacy Act to ensure those funds have maximum benefit. As a result of this legislation, MPCA has initiated a new approach, called Watershed Restoration and Protection Strategies (WRAPS). WRAPS assess the entire watershed, not just the individual water bodies with water quality impairments.

As stated on the MPCA website,

MPCA timeline map for the development of Watershed Restoration and Protection Strategies (WRAPS) (Source: MPCA)

MPCA timeline map for the development of Watershed Restoration and Protection Strategies (WRAPS) (Source: MPCA)

"With the watershed approach, the MPCA can assess the state’s waters more efficiently, saving money and time. The MPCA is currently on track for monitoring all of the state’s 81 major watersheds by 2017 and completing TMDLs and WRAPSs for those watersheds within the next ten years. The agency is also collecting more data, informing local plans and decisions, and producing a watershed plan that goes beyond the TMDLs to include timelines for actions.

Under the new law, WRAPSs must include the following:

  • A precise assessment of pollution sources and needed reductions, including those from nonpoint sources

  • Timelines and milestones for assessing progress

  • Strategies to put the money where it will have the best result

  • A plan for effective monitoring

The act also requires the state to develop the following:

  • Biennial reporting by the MPCA of progress in achieving pollution reductions

  • A nonpoint priority funding plan by the Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources”

(For more information about WRAPS, visit its section under Research and Reports here)

Other Related Links:

Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy’s (MCEA) CWAA information page
MPCA’s CWAA and Watershed Restoration and Protection Strategy (WRAPS) summary page
Committee Report detailing CWAA and its changes to the Clean Water Legacy Act
Minnesota Statutes, Chapter 114D, Clean Water Legacy Act

Non-point Pollution Legislation

Photo showing a vegetative buffer along a ditch. (Source: BWSR)

Photo showing a vegetative buffer along a ditch. (Source: BWSR)

Nonpoint source pollution, or pollution generally resulting from land runoff, precipitation, and drainage, such as sediment, first became a serious policy issue in the 1980s, over a decade after point sources were first addressed. In the late 1980s, the Minnesota legislature passed statutes meant to provide a basic level of water quality protection from nonpoint source pollution across the state.  Three of these statues were the Shoreland Protection Act, the Soil Loss Limits Act, and the Clean Water Partnership Law.  The first measure became mandatory for all counties; the second provided a means for counties to design and operate a soil loss ordinance, but was not mandatory; and the third was a voluntary, watershed-based program designed around careful assessment of water quality followed by voluntary implementation measure to control nonpoint source pollution. Since then, the MPCA has established the Prohibition of Nuisance Pollution Rule that allows them to stop any point or non-point pollution in state waters; however, it hasn't been used to regulation non-point sources as of yet.

Recently, there has been a renewed interest in state legislation to improve water quality related to non-point pollution. In 2015, Governor Dayton signed the Buffer Law requiring 50ft. riparian buffers around public lakes and 16.5 ft. buffers along public ditches. The Buffer Law, which was updated in 2016, provides greater protection from non-point pollution than the Shoreland Protection Act  and Soil Loss Limits Act, both of which are still in place.  Additionally, the Drainage Ditch Maintenance and Improvement Act, established in 2016, requires that all ditches are planted with perennial vegetation.

Continue reading to learn more details about MN legislation on non-point pollution.

Buffer Law 2015 (S.F. 2503)

In light of the tremendous potential value of riparian areas for water quality, the MN State legislature in 2015 passed a landmark “Buffer Law” that requires 50-foot average buffers on lands bordering public waters and 16.5-foot buffers on lands bordering public ditches.  More than 90,000 miles of Minnesota shorelands are estimated to fall under the new requirements. Landowners may choose to implement practices other than vegetative buffers in some cases, as long as the alternative practice provides water quality protection equivalent to a buffer. Landowners also retain their rights to utilize their perennially maintained buffer lands. The 50-foot buffers must be in place by November 1, 2017, and the 16.5-foot buffer by November 1, 2018, and the Board of Water and Soil Resources (BWSR) has authority to issue fines to landowners who do not meet buffer requirements by those dates.

By clarifying the rules and adding financial penalties, the 2015 Buffer Law strengthens a former, rarely enforced MN law that gave counties the authority to require 16.5- or 50-foot buffers on certain waterways.  Yet despite its overlap with this previously accepted law, the new Buffer Law is the source of some confusion and controversy. For example, the MN DNR in June 2016 released its map of public waters and public ditches that will require permanent vegetative buffers, and some have criticized it as incomplete because it is based on the 1970s Public Waters Inventory of state waterways and not a more current mapping effort.  In addition, in January 2016 Governor Dayton agreed to exempt private ditches from buffer requirements in response to pressure from some farmers and commodity groups.

The 2015 Buffer Law also strengthened the previously little-used MN soil loss statute that has been on record since 1984.  The previous law encouraged counties to enact a local ordinance governing local soil erosion complaints.  The ordinance informed county actions in cases of complaints about excess soil erosion stemming from practices not in keeping with established recommendations and harming public waters or neighboring lands.  The 2015 law gives all counties the power to act on cases of excess erosion, without the requirement for a local ordinance. It also provides for county enforcement through an administrative penalty order process.  The local SWCD staff will still be the key point people in working with landowners, helping to assess soil loss situations and supporting landowners in working to make improvements. 

Any questions about the buffer map, local requirements, or implmentation should be directed to local Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) or Board of Water and Soil Resources (BWSR) personnel. Many counties have held or intend to hold meetings to clarify requirements and procedures, prior to implementation.

Drainage Ditch Maintenance and Improvement (Minn. Stat. 103E.021)

The State drainage law calls for establishment of a 16.5 feet buffer along drainage ditches as part of a redetermination of benefits process. Several counties are combining this process with a ditch improvement process in order to address sediment problems from unstable banks, breaches in berms or from unprotected side-inlets.

Shoreland Protection (Minn. Stat. 103F.201)

Shore Impact Zone: The shoreland protection rule applies to agricultural uses of the 50-foot shore impact zone, a zone requiring a 50-foot buffer strip of permanent vegetation between the bank and the productive land. This includes most streams that have not been converted to drainage ditches, downstream of the point at which the contributing watershed is two square miles or more. The 50-foot buffer strip is designed to filter runoff containing nutrients and loose soil as it flows over fields and into surrounding water bodies during rain events.

Bluff Impact Zone: The bluff impact zone is a 20-foot setback of permanent vegetation for structures proposed to be built in bluff areas that are located immediately adjacent to an 18% or steeper slope.

Soil Loss Limits Ordinances (Minn. Stat. 103F.415)

Counties may adopt such ordinances through Minn. Stat. 103F.415.  The ordinance provides additional protection against severe erosion, operates on a complaint basis, and has been adopted by 5-6 counties only, mainly in southeast Minnesota.

Clean Water Partnership Law (Minn. Stat. 103F.715)

In 1987, a series of MN statutes created the "Clean Water Partnership Law".  It established a new MPCA program that provides grant and loan money to local government units implementing projects to improve surface and ground water throughout the state. Since it began, the program has distributed $43 million for grants and $59 million in State Revolving Fund (SRF) loans. To learn more, visit the MPCA Clean Water Partnership website.

Prohibition of Nuisance Pollution (M. Rule 7050.0210, subp.2)

This rule provision authorizes the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency to take action to stop point or nonpoint sources of pollution in waters of the state. The MPCA has yet to make use of this authority to regulate nonpoint source pollution, but it could do so.