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Dec 04

Ditch Happenings Nov. 30th - Dec. 4th

Posted on December 4, 2015 at 3:34 PM by Acacia Wytaske

I just got back from the 2015 Minnesota Association of Water Districts Pre-Conference Session: Minnesota Drainage Workshop that was held in Alexandria, MN yesterday. What an incredibly valuable workshop to attend!

The workshop started with a presentation from Attorney Kurt Deter of Rinke Noonan, Attorneys at Law.  Kurt Deter is an expert in MN Drainage Law. 
Kurt's presentation focused on the history of MN drainage, and recent trends and issues from the legal perspective; including the new Buffer Law.  It was beneficial to review the Clean Water Act which was behind the original buffer law passed in 1977.  The current state statute regarding buffers is 103E.021. Another statute that was influenced by the Clean Water Act is 103E.015

It's important to point out that the new buffer bill is not replacing the current statute, it is in addition to the current statute. The buffer requirement has been in place since 1977, so projects that have taken place since then already should have buffer strips installed. For example, Blue Earth County currently has buffer strips on 57% of all our open ditches. That's really good!

The next presentation was the "Buffer Law Panel Discussion with Perspective Summaries". 
John Jaschke of BWSR gave insight on addressing the buffer law with landowners, success with installing buffers in the past when Shoreland provisions were enforced, the purpose behind the buffer law and the changes that took place from when it was first introduced to when it passed.  He also touched on needing clarification of enforcement of the new buffer law and how CRP lands will be affected.

Sarah Strommen of the DNR gave us information on the Buffer Map Project timeline. Letters will be going out to counties next week so we can start comparing and proving data to the DNR to assist with the Map Project. The DNR has an extremely tight timeline to get the Buffer Map done. They plan to have the preliminary map done by March 2016 at the latest.  The DNR will use Lidar & GIS technology called "HPI", which stands for Hydrographic Position Index, to find ditch locations when counties are unable to provide adequate records. Luckily, Blue Earth County has decent records to submit.  Sarah gave us the description of what the DNR is looking for, as far as, what waterways will require a buffer as "waterways carrying sediment and pollutants to our public waters or public ditch systems".  Once the preliminary map is in place, issues that arise on an individual basis based on landscape features and intermediate flows will be addressed. Many questions were answered and I hope to have a summary of some of these questions available to share with you on a FAQ sheet by mid-December.

Up next was Warren Formo with the MAWRC, who was able to give the perspective of the agricultural community regarding the new buffer law.  As a research and educational resource, MAWRC was asked to speak to legislation about the science of buffers. Not necessarily about whether or not buffers work, because buffers do work, but how the buffers should be addressed on a local level with landowners.  Consistency is often the word that is brought up when dealing with a statewide law but when you have varying local conditions, consistency might not be the best policy.  MAWRC's number one goal with the new buffer law is awareness. They also want to make sure the farmers and farmland owners are talking and that everyone is working with their local SWCD.

Kurt Deter ended the panel with a review of the details of the law, where there was clarification needed and potential issues that could arise.

We took a break for lunch and after eating quickly and networking for a while, I ran out to play by the lake!

When we got back from lunch we learned about the progress BWSR and Houston Engineering has made on the Minnesota Public Drainage Manual.  Once complete the manual will be available in a Wiki format online.

Tim Gillette and Al Kean of BWSR shared information about the new Clean Water Fund Program in FY 2015 and the unique aspects of the fund.  Grants will be awarded on December 16th, 2015.

The final presentation I'm going to report on was the "Terrain Analysis and Potential Application to Runoff-based Drainage Assessments".  I was literally on the edge of my seat for this one! The topic was on the overview of GIS terrain analysis methods developed by the International Water Institute and Houston Engineering for various applications in the Red River Basin and greater MN, including potential application of runoff-based options for redetermination of land benefits.  THIS IS HUGE! Charles Fritz, Director of IWI introduced a process using GIS that may help speed up the redetermination of benefits process. It's not a process to replace ditch viewers, it's a method of viewing that may be able to be used alternatively.  I can't wait to learn more!

I was hoping to cover this week's Board of Commissioner's Meeting in this blog but I've run out of space, so check back next week!

Casey Wytaske
Taxpayer Service Specialist - Drainage & Taxation