Legislative Update – April 12, 2016

We are currently at the halfway mark in the 2016 Minnesota Legislative Session. The following is a summary of the status of lake, river, and clean water issues:

Clean Water Bonding Priorities

The primary job of the 2016 Legislature is to pass the state’s regular capital investment, or “bonding” bill.   Bonding bills fund long term capital projects including building repairs, land acquisition, park and trail projects, and infrastructure needs. The Governor has proposed $220 million for clean water projects, including helping communities fix aging wastewater and drinking water treatment plants, cleaning up contaminated waters, and reducing future costs by protecting water from pollution in the first place. Both the Senate and House are expected to release their bonding proposals later this month.

Clean Water by 2050

The Governor’s Water Summit in February clearly demonstrated the strong interest Minnesotans have in achieving clean water in all parts of the state. Minnesotans are deeply concerned that in some parts of the state, over half the lakes are no longer considered swimmable. To actually achieve clean water, we need clear goals and timelines for making lakes and rivers fishable and swimmable and for making sure all communities have safe drinking water supplies. Recently, a bill (S.F 3488) was introduced setting clear goals for clean water, with the ultimate goal that all lakes and rivers will be fishable and swimmable by 2050.

Stream Buffer Protection

In 2015, the Legislature passed a new law which makes important progress in requiring more buffers strips to protect our rivers and streams from sediment and nutrient run-off. The law requires a 50 foot vegetative buffer for rivers and streams and applies a 16.5 foot buffer requirement for many ditches. Most lakes are already covered by lakeshore rules and are not affected by the new buffer requirements, but cleaner streams and ditches will mean the lakes they flow into will also benefit. Earlier this year, opposition to the new requirements led the DNR to announce that not all ditches would be covered. Bills were introduced to further restrict or even repeal the new law. To date, negotiations have been successful in limiting further weakening of the buffer requirements. Bills are moving that include some clarification of the buffer law and, at this point, are supported by conservation advocates. We are continuing to monitor this legislation.

Aquatic Invasive Species (AIS)

 The DNR’s 2016 policy bill clarifies that the definition of invasive species includes macro algae like starry stonewort, which was first found in Minnesota lakes in 2015, and clarifies that AIS laws apply to moving water-related equipment from one water body to a different water body.