Long Battle for Vegetative Buffers Ends in Victory for Wisconsin’s Waters

Long Battle for Vegetative Buffers Ends in Victory for Wisconsin’s Waters

by Juniper Garver-Hume
Clean Water Coalition Coordinator, River Alliance of Wisconsin

A resolution approved by the Wisconsin Natural Resources Board in May ends more than four years of debate about the need for vegetative buffer strips along waterways as part of the new state rules to control polluted runoff. The Clean Water Coalition, led by the River Alliance and representing more than three dozen groups with over 160,000 members, said that the resolution was an historic opportunity for our waterways. Soil loss from riparian fields is one of the most significant contributors to polluted runoff – our number one water quality problem.

The Natural Resources Board adopted a resolution directing the staff of the DNR to develop a science-based standard, which must be in place by the beginning of 2008, to require vegetative buffer strips for agricultural land. 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 Life Sciences.

If the research is not completed by the end of 2005, the new standard will mirror the current buffer guidelines for Wisconsin that have been developed by the Natural Resource Conservation Service.We already have plenty of research saying that buffers clean water and that wider buffers are better.This study will not determine if buffers are good practices for Wisconsin. Instead, this study will help us determine the most effective buffer designs for our limited cost-sharing dollars.

There remain significant concerns about adequate means to implement, monitor and enforce the entire non-point set of rules. Still, mandatory buffers for new development in urban areas, strong infiltration standards for storm water runoff, new construction site erosion standards and a series of tougher performance standards for agricultural practices make this new rules package arguably the strongest set of rules to control polluted runoff in the nation.

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Images courtesy of Steven Huyser-Honig,
West Grand Boulevard Collaborative, & Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve.