Grassed waterway buffer

DES MOINES — The state’s soil conservation and water quality committee on Dec. 12 rejected a batch of resolutions approved by a statewide organization of conservation district commissioners.

One of the rejected resolutions would have encouraged state lawmakers to ban planting crops within 30 feet of streams.

The resolutions were approved in August by the Conservation Districts of Iowa, which is comprised of 500 soil and water conservation district commissioners from across the state.

Resolutions passed by the group go to the state Soil Conservation & Water Quality Committee, which at its regular monthly meeting Dec. 12 in Des Moines voted to reject all four resolutions approved by the conservation districts, including the one that would have mandated buffer strips.

State conservation and water quality committee member who spoke against the resolutions pushed back at state mandates and said the proposals may have admirable goals but would be difficult to implement.

“It is a practice that should remain in the tool box,” said state committee member Sherman Lundy, of Cedar Falls, the committee’s mining industry representative. “But the idea of requiring permanent buffer strips simply to protect streams. ...

“This is a very complex issue. What’s a stream? Is a stream a ditch? Because it functions very much in the same way.”

Lundy said requiring buffer strips would be akin to the federal government’s proposal to regulate smaller waterways that flow into larger ones. The so-called “Waters of the U.S.” rule became a contentious political issue before ultimately being scrapped.

“Yes, we’re concerned about soil runoff. Yes, we’re concerned about water quality issues,” Lundy said. “But when you put out a mandate like that, with what I call a huge difficulty in implementing this kind of practice, that’s really the frustration with these kinds of things.”

The resolution was modeled after a new state law in Minnesota that requires 50-foot buffer strips along lakes, rivers and streams, and 16.5 feet along ditches.

Kevin Pope, a state soil conservation and water quality committee member from Mason City, said Minnesota farmers he talks to are upset by the new law.

“The feeling from farmers is their land was stolen from them with that mandate up there,” Pope said. “I think that’s wrecked their attitude toward voluntary practices somewhere else on their farm. I’ve heard it from every Minnesota farmer I’ve talked to. ... They feel the state overstepped their bounds, and now their attitude toward voluntary conservation has changed.”

State committee member Patti Ruff, of McGregor, countered that voluntary compliance is insufficient. She said despite efforts by the state and conservation groups to educate farmers about programs designed to support conservation practices, she still sees farmers planting crops right up to the edge of waterways.

“Haven’t we promoted and basically all but mandated buffer strips and practices? ... And there are still farmers out there, I drive every day and see them literally plowing up the dirt right to the edge (of the water),” Ruff said. “I don’t think there’s any other way to get everyone on board unless you mandate it.”

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