Buffer Law

Many water bodies in Minnesota do not meet fishable, swimmable standards, and several water body impairments are the result of contaminated surface water runoff entering ditches, lakes and streams. A vegetative buffer is a means of filtering contaminants from surface water before it enters public waters.

Minnesota’s Buffer Law, signed into law in 2015 and amended in 2016 and 2017, states that buffers of perennially rooted vegetation or alternate water quality practices must be in place on applicable parcels adjacent to designated public waters by November 1, 2017 and designated public ditches by November 1, 2018.

For questions or concerns about the Buffer Law within Ramsey County, contact Soil & Water Conservation Division staff at 651-266-7270.

Soil & Water Conservation Division's work on Buffer Law

Ramsey County Soil & Water Conservation Division has been involved with the Buffer Law in several ways:

  • Parcel compliance tracking in Ramsey County.
  • Hosted a public meeting on the Buffer Law.
  • Hosted a meeting of Water Management Authorities, Ramsey County and the Board of Water and Soil Resources (BWSR) to discuss roles and responsibilities with the Buffer Law in Ramsey County.
  • The Conservation District Board adopted a Resolution on June 1, 2017 describing local protection of watercourses that are not included in the Buffer map, in accordance with Procedure 6 of the Buffer Law. This was distributed to BWSR and local water management authorities.

Ongoing Soil & Water Conservation Division responsibilities:

  • Monitor the compliance status of each relevant parcel and inform regulatory authorities of non-compliance
  • Provide assistance to landowners requesting support in planning, alternate practices implementation, tracking compliance progress and technical assistance

Information for landowners

If you are a landowner with any part of your parcel within 50 feet of a DNR-designated public water basin or public watercourse, or within 16.5 feet of a public ditch, then the Buffer Law applies to you.

View map

How to comply

The law states that landowners with property adjacent to a water body identified on the buffer protection map must maintain a perennially rooted vegetation buffer of 50 ft average (30-ft minimum) around public waters and a 16.5-ft minimum width buffer along public ditches to protect the state’s water resources. Approved alternative clean water practices may take the place of buffers in some areas.

Land that is exempt from the buffer requirement is land covered by buildings, structures, roads, trails, water access points, beaches or other recreational land uses. Also exempt is land in the Conservation Reserve Program or land with riparian protection measures and regulated by NPDES MS4 or other applicable permits.

Non-compliant parcels

Soil & Water Conservation Division staff monitor land use change to ensure continued compliance. If a violation is found, staff notifies the regulatory authority of the Buffer Law, who then notifies the landowner. The landowner then has 11 months to come into compliance, at which point a monthly fine will be issued until compliance is reached. Fines increase over time and with repeated violations.

If you are notified of non-compliance on your land, you may contact the Ramsey County Soil & Water Conservation Division to request technical assistance to learn how to reach compliance via the implementation of a buffer or alternate clean water practice.