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Buffer strip bill clears the House, heads to governor for signature

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A measure that would roll back some of Minnesota's buffer-strip law has passed the House and is headed to Gov. Mark Dayton's desk.

Dayton signed the measure into law last year. It requires that Minnesota farmers install buffer strips of vegetation between fields and public waterways and ditches to protect against runoff. Landowners who fail to install the buffer strips could face fines and other penalties.

But Republicans and agricultural groups who agreed to the measure say they never meant for privately owned ditches to be included in the law.

The bill that cleared the House on a 105-24 vote Thursday, would clarify that landowners are not required to put buffers along private ditches. It also allows local governments to decide whether to regulate the buffer law.

"We modeled this work on work that already has been done in counties across the state that have installed buffers effectively," said Rep. Paul Torkelson to the Pioneer Press.

The bill cleared the Senate last week.

Dayton, who has made improving Minnesota's water quality the top priority of his political agenda, says he supports the changes and is expected to sign the legislation.

He says the vegetative buffers will protect the state's waters, many of which are polluted with water that's unfit for drinking or recreation.

The Star Tribune notes that the new law makes it easier to administer the regulations and will give significant oversight to the Board of Water and Soil Resources. It's passage highlights a week that Dayton dubbed "Water Action Week."

"Tragically, in recent years, the quality of our water has deteriorated in many parts of our state. Too many lakes, rivers, streams and ditches have become contaminated with potentially dangerous chemicals. In some communities, the surface and underground waters our citizens use for drinking, washing, work, and recreation are no longer safe."

The governor has also proposed a $220 million package to upgrade the state's water infrastructure, including money for water treatment plants in rural Minnesota.

But the Associated Press notes that not all Democrats supported the change. Some argued that exempting the private waterways would lead to more pollution in the state's water.

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