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Renville County pushes ahead on redetermination

OLIVIA -- Renville County is aiming to complete the redetermination of benefits process on all of its county ditch systems in the coming year. It should help landowners who have county ditches on their property, and must have 16 1/2 -foot buffer ...

Tribune file photoRenville County plans to complete the redetermination of benefits process on all of its county ditch systems in the coming year. Drainage from many additional acres has been added to systems over the years and those acres are not yet sharing in the costs of system maintenance.
Tribune file photo Renville County plans to complete the redetermination of benefits process on all of its county ditch systems in the coming year. Drainage from many additional acres has been added to systems over the years and those acres are not yet sharing in the costs of system maintenance.
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OLIVIA - Renville County is aiming to complete the redetermination of benefits process on all of its county ditch systems in the coming year.

It should help landowners who have county ditches on their property, and must have 16½-foot buffer strips seeded along them by Nov. 1, 2018, to comply with Minnesota's new buffer law.

When a redetermination is completed on a ditch system, all property owners who are benefited by the drainage system share in the costs of its maintenance. The landowners who have installed buffers will be compensated for the easement on that land by the ditch system, and they will be paid $150 per acre for their seeding costs.

Larry Zupke, Renville County drainage director, outlined the county's efforts at informational meetings on the new buffer law.

The county has 151 ditch systems, of which 46 or 48 are county systems, Zupke said. He said the county is completing the redetermination process on 12 ditches currently.

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The majority of the ditch systems in the county are joint ditches with neighboring counties, which are jointly administered, or they are judicial ditches, established by court order and also often administered by multiple counties.

When the county learned that H2Over Viewers could carry out the redetermination process on multiple systems, it approved a contract with the company to get all of the county systems completed.

The county is aiming to complete all of the systems as expediently as possible. Most systems in the county have not had benefits redetermined since they were dredged, often as much as a century ago. Drainage from many additional acres has been added to those systems over the years and those acres are not sharing in the costs of system maintenance, Zupke noted.

The county is focused on completing the redeterminations to make sure the systems are able to fund their maintenance needs.

"It needs to be done because it is the lifeblood of our county. We all know that. Ths drainage system has to work. It has to function,'' Zupke said.

Landowners can find cost-share assistance through the county for installing buffers. The Renville County Soil and Water Conservation District is offering $100 per acre for seeding non-native perennials and $175 for native perennials.

The federal government's 24 million-acre cap on the Conservation Reserve Program means that program is no longer an option for buffers at this point, according to Kevin Beekman, executive director of the Farm Service Agency in the county.

Landowners still have the option of enrolling land for buffers in the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program, which requires a permanent easement, according to Karen Wermers with the Renville County Soil and Water Conservation District.

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The county is also willing to work with landowners to determine if they can employ alternative practices to comply with the buffer requirement, according to Mike Sandager with the SWCD office.

He pointed out that the county already has a policy not to tax the buffer land along ditches.

The county has accepted the responsibility for enforcing the buffer law. Its policy will allow an 11-month, penalty-free period for landowners to bring their property into compliance with the buffer law once notified of the need to do so after the Nov. 1, 2018, deadline.

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