by Juniper Garver-Hume,
Clean Water Coalition/River Alliance of Wisconsin
The Wisconsin Natural Resources Board unanimously adopted a resolution on May 23rd directing the staff of the Department of Natural Resources to develop a science-based standard to require vegetative buffer strips for agricultural land along high quality and impaired waters throughout the state. The new standard will be developed after additional scientific research is conducted to determine the most effective width and configuration of buffers for Wisconsin. This is hailed by the conservation community as a major victory toward controlling non-point pollution runoff into the state’s waterways.
The new standard will require buffers on agricultural land along all high quality and impaired waters in Wisconsin when cost share dollars are available. The standard will be based on the results of scientific research to be conducted by the Wisconsin Agricultural Stewardship Initiative, with input from the University of Wisconsin College of Agricultural and Life Sciences. The report is to be concluded by the end of 2005. If the research is not completed by that time, the new standard will mirror the current buffer guidelines for Wisconsin that have been developed by the Natural Resource Conservation Service.
By passing the resolution to require a buffer standard, the Natural Resources Board has successfully found a solution to one of the final sticking points holding up passage of the polluted runoff rules that have been in the making for nearly four years. Vegetative buffer strips have been a key practice in the rules—for both agriculture and urban standards—until they were removed from the agricultural standards late last year.
The new buffer standard will be implemented by a future date that will be chosen so as not to affect the eligibility of Wisconsin landowners who participate in the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP). Vegetative buffers have been stalled largely because the state worried that a mandatory standard would render landowners ineligible for CREP, which provides generous federal funding for conservation practices. However, the Farm Services Agency recently stated that a mandatory buffer requirement, with a future compliance date, will not conflict with CREP. The latest Federal Farm Bill extended CREP until 2008.