Association of State Wetland Managers - Protecting the Nation's Wetlands.

The Compleat Wetlander: New Reports Available to Support Protection of Riparian Resources

cwlogoBy Jeanne Christie, Executive Director, ASWM

In early July 2016, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources released a GIS map of public waters and public ditches requiring permanent vegetative buffers or alternative water quality practices. The buffer map shows landowners and local governments where protective vegetative buffers of 16.5 feet or an average of 50 feet are required, as approved by the Minnesota Legislature in 2015 and revised in 2016. The map can be viewed here.

Specifically, the maps depict:

  • Public ditches requiring 16.5 foot buffers (or alternative practice)
  • Public waters requiring 50 foot buffers (or alternative practice)
  • A few sites labeled as “needs field review,” which will be resolved in a future map update

mnbuffermapThe statewide map was completed following an extensive public input process to ensure the accuracy of the maps by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. The public review process resulted in thousands of comments and almost 1500 corrections. There will be an ongoing process for additional corrections. The map includes 60,000 miles of public ditches and waters subject to the buffer protection requirements. The completion of the buffer map by the state starts the implementation phase which will be carried out by the Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources (BWSR), soil and water conservation districts (SWCDs), and other local governments, who will work with landowners on any questions about buffers or alternative water quality practices.

Minnesota’s interest in protecting the areas along streams—often called riparian areas– with buffers is not unique. Other states have in place or are pursuing efforts to support protection of riparian zones. While the Association of State Wetland Managers has not explored the full extent of these activities, the importance of protection of streamside (riparian) areas was brought up by a number of states during disucssions that occurred in development to the “Status and Trends Report on State Wetland Programs in the United States” and individual state summaries as well as an earlier “Report on State Definitions, Jurisdiction and Mitigation Requirements in State Programs for Ephemeral, Intermittent and Perennial Streams in the United States.”

In support of these efforts, the Association of State Wetland Managers published two new reports this spring to assist states, local government and other parties in understanding what riparian areas are, why they are important and actions that can be taken to protect them by federal, state, local, and tribal government including a model ordinance.

restoring030916The first publication: “Protecting and Restoring Riparian Areas” gives an overview of riparian areas and covers the reasons for protecting riparian areas from the perspectives of 1) water quality/habitat protection, 2) flood hazard risk reduction and 3) private landowner liability concerns. Often individual agency staff or others interested in protecting riparian areas may be considering only one of these aspects. The likelihood of developing sensible programs that protect riparian areas as well as public trust and private landowner interests is greater if all these reasons for protecting riparian areas are considered as part of program development. The report identifies actions that can be taken by federal, state and local government to protect riparian areas. The second publication “Model ‘Riparian’ Protection Ordinance” provides the formal language that could be used in an modelriparian030916ordinance. The model ordinance in this publication is based on language already in use in existing local riparian, floodplain and wetland ordinances. This ‘model’ language is available as a resource to aid local government and other groups interested in the adoption of a local program to protect riparian areas. However, before a local government adopts any model ordinance language including the one provided here, it must be revised and integrated to fit with other relevant laws and ordinances. It should also be fully vetted with local citizens to ensure everyone understands the purpose and provisions for carrying out the ordinance.

The areas adjacent to rivers and streams throughout the United States are very important for a long list of reasons including: flood attenuation and conveyance, erosion reduction, groundwater protection, pollution prevention/treatment, wildlife habitat protection, and recreation opportunities. They are also often areas of historical and archaeological importance. Riparian areas are also subject to intense development pressure and alteration in both urban and rural areas.

In the coming years it is anticipated that there will be greater attention to the land management decisions made in riparian areas and as an increasing number of states are beginning to look more closely at the reasons that additional protection of these areas is merited. The Association of State Wetland Managers will continue to share information about the importance of these and other aquatic resources as well as resources and tools available, including a webinar on state buffer programs later in the fall of 2016.

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