In the land of 10,000 lakes our water supply is a competitive advantage for our economy and our quality of life. It is a resource that we must protect. It is clear that at best we can summarize the 2016 legislative session as one with modest accomplishments, a chaotic end, and unfinished business. However, there were some important bi-partisan changes on water policy this year.

One tool to improve water quality is increasing the amount of agricultural land that has perennial cover. Perennial crops need a market and Minnesota is taking steps to achieve that. I introduced the Working Lands bill last session to build on progress made in 2015 when the Legislature passed a law that may lead to development of cellulosic biofuels. That legislation requires that the resource for the biofuel coming from agricultural land will build to 50 percent coming from perennial crops.

The Working Lands bill that passed this year provides funds to study the potential for this market along with impacts on water quality and how to incentivize landowners and farmers to grow perennial crops to be developed as cellulosic biofuels. This legislation was developed by working with a broad coalition including the Minnesota Corn Growers, the Minnesota Farmers Union, the Great Plains Institute, Friends of the Mississippi and the Minnesota Environmental Partnership.

The buffer legislation passed in 2015 requires a vegetative buffer strip along waterways and drainage ditches. After listening to farmers and clean water advocates, lawmakers made changes to clarify the law and to improve implementation of it next year. These changes passed with overwhelming bi-partisan support.

The Minnesota River Congress is a grass-roots organization in our region that is working to help improve water quality throughout the Minnesota River Basin. They are well organized and making progress towards developing strategies to meet water quality challenges in the waterway that binds southern Minnesota. Residents from many walks of life are working together to revitalize the river basin. This is a tremendous asset for our region and I encourage anyone who is interested to participate in the Minnesota River Congress’ efforts.

We need productive agriculture and we need cleaner water. We are all benefitting as agriculture is increasingly taking a lead in finding and implementing solutions to water quality as it relates to agricultural production. An important factor is to help farmers and land owners develop ways to address water quality within the context of the bottom line for the farm. Market-driven solutions offer the best opportunities for long term impact from practices to improve water quality.

Progress has been made in the last few years as residents, agriculture and environmental interests are working together on the complex challenge of addressing water quality in farm country. I have every intention to continue to help various groups work together well and to keep finding new mutually beneficial ways to improve water quality in Minnesota. We just do better when we work together on tough problems. That’s Minnesota’s heritage and it must be Minnesota’s future.

Clark Johnson, DFL-N. Mankato, represents District 19A in the Minnesota House.

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