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Grassy Buffer Strip Plan Still Not Drawing Much Interest

Democratic legislator Jim Peterson tried for years to pass a plan to improve water quality with agricultural property tax incentives for grassy buffer strips along our streams. Republicans kept shooting his plan down until Republican Governor Dennis Daugaard proposed his own watered-down version of the buffer strips plan.

Not surprisingly, a watered-down plan produces watered-down results. Bob Mercer reports that, three years after enactment, the state isn’t seeing much interest in backing our tractors and fertilizer away from the water’s edge:

According to the state Department of Revenue, 35 applications from rural landowners in nine of South Dakota’s 66 counties were accepted in 2019.

The deadline to file an application for 2020 is October 15.

…In 2018, 31 applicants were approved, totaling 318.24 acres that were accepted statewide for a property tax reduction, according to Stacey Anderson, the department’s communications specialist. She said the 2019 total was 423.56 acres [Bob Mercer, “Few Use S.D. Tax Break for Ag Land Along Water,” KELO-TV, 2020.10.03].

Evidently leaving environmental protection up to individual responsibility works about as well as leaving pandemic control up to individual responsibility. Ecology and public health both take a back seat to the immediate profits everyone desperately needs to stay afloat in South Dakota’s challenging economy.


  1. Mike Livingston 2020-10-05 14:16

    The resentment of regulation is a subject that I am very familiar with, having been an electrical inspector for a number of years, I learned that people are willing to put the welfare and safety of themselves and others at risk to avoid paying a professional to make a safe installation. What does that have to do with the subject at hand you may ask, do not we all deserve unpolluted water and just because someone who owns land, does that give them the right to pollute the water that ultimately ends up contributing to others water supply?

  2. Debbo 2020-10-05 22:16

    Grassy buffer strips have worked well in Minnesota. Yes, some landowners did not like the law, but water quality has improved. It’s a good, relatively painless start.

  3. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2020-10-06 06:37

    Minnesota takes the public good seriously. South Dakota lives on the cheap, recruits anti-regulatory radicals, and doesn’t think it can afford the public good.

  4. Kent Frerichs 2020-10-07 17:10

    This is a very important program and could have a major impact on keeping soil, chemicals, and other pollutants out of lakes and streams. However, eligible waterways are far to limited. I wasn’t aware of the ability of county commissions, by resolution, to expand the number of tributaries that could be eligible. Perhaps more counties should provide for that expansion. I believe the concept was that it is better to have a voluntary effort to install riparian buffer strips than to mandate them. According to Lesley Coyle, South Dakota Department of Revenue Property Tax Director, five counties have expanded eligible tributaries. Those counties are: Brookings, Codington, Grant, Hamlin, and Moody (Lesley Coyle can provide sample copies of the required resolution).

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