Revealed: The map to make MN waters swimmable again

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Here's the first look at the farmland "buffer map" put together by Minnesota's Department of Natural Resources.

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It's covered with enough lines to make your head spin, which highlights the sheer magnitude of the work undertaken by the DNR to map every one of Minnesota's lakes and waterways to decide which ones need "buffer strips" of vegetation.

You can take a closer look at the full map here (be warned, it buffers as it loads).

So what does it mean? Well, every blue line on the map is a place where a 50-foot strip of vegetation must be installed to separate water sources from farmland, while every green line signifies a 16.5-foot strip of vegetation.

In total, there are 90,000 miles of river banks and shorelines that require buffer strips.

And why are they doing this? You might remember we wrote a series of stories last year highlighting the shocking state of Minnesota's waterways, particularly in the southwest of Minnesota, that has left many lakes and rivers unsuitable for fishing and swimming because of pollution.

Much of the blame for the polluted waters has been put down to runoff from intensive farming right up to the edge of river banks and lake edges, which contribute to the sediment, nitrates and bacteria that enter the water.

As a result, farmers and landowners will be required to put in these "buffers" of vegetation that are designed to filter the runoff before it enters Minnesota's waterways.

The Pioneer Press reports anyone who fails to install the buffers will face fines or other penalties.

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What happens now?

The DNR says that now the buffer map has been released, landowners will use it to install buffers – or alternatives that improve water quality – with help from several authorities including the Board of Water and Soil Resources.

There will be a series of eight meetings between local governments and staff to coordinate the implementation process, Forum News Service reports.

 An example of a buffer strip. (Photo: DNR)

An example of a buffer strip. (Photo: DNR)

The law paving the way for the buffer zones was passed in the last minutes of the 2015 legislative session, and followed a concerted effort from Gov. Mark Dayton, who has identified water quality as one of his main priorities.

Exempt from the plan are private ditches, which was withdrawn from the legislation to the disappointment of Gov. Dayton following pushback from landowners.

The buffer plan had been opposed by two key farm unions, who argued it was an example of governmental overreach that applies a strict "one-size-fits-all" approach to a more nuanced problem.

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