Buffer strips were the main topic of discussion in a Feb. 17 town hall meeting in Morris organized by Rep. Jeff Backer, R-Browns Valley and Sen. Torrey Westrom, R-Elbow Lake

Backer and Westrom said because of payment and enforcement questions the state must delay the implementation of Governor Mark Dayton's required buffer strips and enforcement along drainage ditches.

"The laws are in place but the Governor is pushing through enforcement," Westrom said of laws which require buffer strips. Westrom said it may not be accurate to measure today's drainage districts and water quality to the laws put in place more than 20 years ago.

"The bill doesn't address (any) of the maintenance issues," Backer said.

To most of those who spoke in an audience of at least 50 people, there were no good reasons to not enforce and fully implement Dayton's buffer strips.

"The problem with delaying the buffer law is there will be more and more run off," said Sara Lam. "Forty percent of (Minnesota's) waters are already impaired. What percentage does that need to reach (before the law is enforced)."

Troy Goodnough, a supervisor from the Stevens Soil and Water and Conservation District said he's frustrated by the delay. He had recently attended a meeting with about 100 farmers and they didn't seem confused about the law.

Dayton will require drainage ditches listed as public waters to have up to 50 foot buffer strips on each side of the ditch.

Jim Zych said he has a problem with the definition of public waters as it applies to drainage ditches.

Opponents have said Dayton's law would classify private ditches as public water.

Tom Zych said the law would take land away from farmers but farmers still need to pay for that land.

And who will pay farmers to plant the buffer strip and for the loss of farmland? Westrom and Backer asked the crowd. The $22 million designated by Dayton for buffer strips won't pay the entire cost, Westrom said.

The Soil and Water Conservation Districts are prepared to help farmers with viable options on the buffer strips, Goodnough said.

Lam said farmers receive federal subsidies so responsible use of the land near drainage ditches should be expected in return. Yet, "I'd be willing to pay more in taxes so my children and grandchildren will have clean water," Lam said.

Lam's comment on paying more taxes prompted Westrom to say, "We've just found some common ground."