New Ag Sec Jaspers to Revisit SB 136 for Grassy Buffer Strips

Grassy buffer strips may rise to fight another day! Mike Jaspers, whom Governor Dennis Daugaard has appointed to replace Jaspers’s brother-in-law Lucas Lentsch as Secretary of Agriculture, says concerns about water contamination make him want to revisit Senate Bill 136, the grassy buffer strips incentive that Governor Daugaard vetoed this year:

Mike Jaspers, incoming Secretary of Agriculture
Mike Jaspers, incoming Secretary of Agriculture

Jaspers said he wants to sit down with Daugaard and others to review vetoed Senate Bill 136, which would have offered tax incentives to farmers who plant grassy buffer strips between their crops and bodies of water. Jaspers wants to see if there could be a revision of the bill, or a similar alternative that would help prevent soil from washing away.“There have been problems in other states where soil being washed away has contaminated water for towns, and farmers are being blamed for it,” Jaspers said. “We want to be more proactive about it now, so it’ll benefit agriculture in the long run” [Tatum Dean, “Ag Ownership Key Issue for New Ag Secretary in South Dakota,” Aberdeen American News, 2016.06.12].

That’s a sit-down I’d love to sit in on! SB 136 was a reasonable and entirely voluntary incentive program that would have provided cost-effective protection of water quality and wildlife habitat. It was already a healthy compromise down from Minnesota’s mandatory riparian buffer requirement. If Jaspers proves persuasive in his conversation with the Governor, I’ll be happy to see SB 136 work its way through the 2017 Legislature to a more receptive Governor’s desk.

9 Responses to New Ag Sec Jaspers to Revisit SB 136 for Grassy Buffer Strips

  1. Lee Schoenbeck

    Mike Jaspers is a very good person, and he gets it. In the long run, Ag benefits from efforts to keep the public’s water clean. I spoke out in favor of the bill, but don’t assume all who voted no are hard nos. there were two types of concerns, those who just don’t get it, and those who want the mechanics of how it would work cleaned up a little. I think Mike’s just the guy to bridge that gap.

  2. Recent reports detailed the DENR’s finding that 80% of South Dakota’s waterways are “unfit” for intended uses due in large part to agricultural runoff. That’s not blame. It is a fact based on 5 years of research. That’s why I will support the reincarnation of SB 136 and any other legislation to preserve our water.

  3. Indeed, Mark: with data like that on hand, it shouldn’t be hard to bridge the political differences Lee talks about and tackle the problem.

  4. mike from iowa

    With all them new non-polluting cafos Mickelson wants, who needs filter strips?

  5. SB 136 was woefully short on detail, to wit:

    What characteristics (e.g., drainage area, defined bed/banks, hydrophytic vegetation, etc.) would define the water features eligible for the incentive? The proposed legislation referenced “lakes, rivers, and streams”, but not wetlands, which is a bit disconcerting since the majority of eastern SD falls within the Prairie Pothole Region.

    What would define the waterward edge of the buffer, and would the land covered by its 50 foot width change over time in response to variable water levels?

    What constitutes perennial vegetation? A manicured Kentucky Bluegrass lawn and a field of deep-rooted, native vegetation (e.g., Big Bluestem, Indiangrass, Switchgrass, etc.) could both be considered perennial vegetation, but would provide markedly different outcomes with respect to water quality and quantity.

    What management practices (i.e., mowing, grazing, burning, etc.) could be utilized within the buffer area?

    What entity would be responsible for technical assistance and long-term monitoring and compliance?

    The benefits of utilizing riparian buffers to mitigate water pollution are well documented, and they certainly should be one of many tools in the clean water toolkit. The EWG isn’t too keen on the voluntary approach: Additionally, buffers do nothing to remove pollutants conveyed by drainage tile.

  6. HydroGuy—dang it! There you go, complicating good legislation with rigorous scientific and legal questions. ;-)

    What standard does the Minnesota buffer mandate use to define the water’s edge from which the buffer width is measured? Does Minnesota specify management practices and monitoring?

    Can we write a bill for the 2017 Session that would address all those concerns?

    And even if we do address those good technical questions, does Governor Daugaard give a rip? If I recall correctly, his veto involved none of those questions and revolved instead around his desire to protect the “best-use” assessment method from “actual-use” exemptions.

  7. Minnesota’s “buffer law”, a water quality regulation at its core, can be found at the following website: There would likely be some similarities between that law and the SD version, but differences would undoubtedly exist because the former is a legal requirement and the latter is voluntary. The MN Board of Water and Soil Resources (BWSR) is the entity responsible for fine-tuning details of the law, including guidance that speaks to a few of your queries, CH—

    Passage of the MN buffer law tied for fourth on the Environmental Working Group’s “Top 10 Agriculture Stories of 2015”—; quite prestigious considering the other stories that made the list.

    Certainly a bill that addresses the questions I posed in my initial comment could be drafted for the next session. I would advise that the proposal be discussed with applicable BWSR and Department of Natural Resources (DNR) personnel in order to draw on their cumulative experience with a similar endeavor. South Dakota’s “premier” water management agency, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), should necessarily be consulted to determine if they have state-specific information/data to assist in defining the characteristics of water features eligible for the incentive.

    As in MN, partisan political wrangling will definitely impact the end-product of the legislation—i.e., water quality benefits or lack thereof—should it pass. Unfortunately, the efficacy of MN’s law has been significantly reduced since inception, mostly at the hands of Republican legislators in the House. The fact that SD’s version is voluntary may preclude damaging amendments to some extent, though, if my memory serves me correctly, the SD Corngrowers Association staunchly opposed SB 136 and several legislators who switched their votes from yes to no during the attempted veto override did so because they feared voluntary participation would inevitably lead to mandatory regulation. Burying one’s head in the sand is not a solution to the significant water quality/quantity problems we currently face, most of which constitute a legitimate public health hazard and impair aquatic resources that belong to all.

  8. dill pickel

    Mike Jaspers is a very good farmer. He is also very honest. My predication is he will make a good secy of ag. I drove by his farm when he was replanting low spots in the corn. These spots should be allowed to be tiled; They are not farmed wetlands. To prevent the zika virus from causing birth defects in babies most wetlands should be drained.

  9. Drain the wetlands?!

    (1) The maps I’ve seen indicate that the mosquitoes that thrive in South Dakota don’t carry Zika.

    (2) Would the reduction of West Nile and maybe Zika threat outweigh the loss of habitat and water quality?