August 26, 2020
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources is seeking public comment on its proposal to make corrections to the Public Waters Inventory (PWI) by returning four watercourses in Renville County and one watercourse in Polk County to the PWI.
DNR has determined that these five watercourses are altered or natural watercourses, each of which has a total drainage area greater than 2 square miles and therefore meets the statutory definition of a public watercourse. Once returned to PWI, these watercourses would be easily identified as being subject to public water regulations and the buffer law.
In 2017, 640 miles of watercourses in 70 counties were removed from PWI because of the DNR buffer mapping project. Part of this effort revealed that some watercourses were not clearly identified as public waters at the time of the original inventory in the early 1980s. This led to landowners not being properly notified of a public watercourse adjacent to their property.
In its 2017 order, DNR determined it was necessary to remove the watercourses subject to this earlier error from PWI, given the lack of landowner notice while simultaneously announcing that the agency might review the watercourses for possible inclusion in PWI in the future.
Shortly after DNR announced its decision to remove these listed waters, activists appealed to DNR to add them back to PWI. Following the recent announcement proposing to add back waters in Renville and Polk counties, these activists continue to call for adding back other watercourses removed in 2017.
Activists claim that listing these watercourses on PWI is necessary to protect them from environmental harm and that not being on the list will subject them to all sorts of degradation. However, the fact is that this is just one more layer of regulation on top of an already complex set of rules and regulations affecting land water management in Minnesota. This is essentially an issue of control and agencies that have been aggressively working to expand their regulatory reach in recent years.
Addition to PWI would trigger evaluation for compliance with the buffer law. Most areas are likely compliant already, just as more than 80% of required buffers were in place statewide when the new buffer law was passed in 2015. Also of concern, drainage activities could be impacted as DNR would play a larger role in review and permitting of projects.
Landowners in affected areas are encouraged to review the proposal and submit comments. DNR will accept written comments on this proposal until Nov. 11 at 4:30 p.m. Written comments should be submitted to Public Waters Inventory Corrections, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, 500 Lafayette Road, St. Paul, MN, 55155-4025, or [email protected].
Formo is executive director of the Minnesota Agricultural Water Resource Center.
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