'Buffer Strip Bill' Heads to S.D. Senate

February 2, 2017 02:02 PM

A South Dakota bill that would encourage people to install buffer strips of vegetation between agricultural land and hundreds of lakes and thousands of miles of streams is headed to the full Senate.

The chamber's Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee voted unanimously Thursday to approve the bill. It would offer property tax breaks for land turned into buffer strips of vegetation to help trap fertilizer, pesticides and sediment before they reach water.

Such buffers can improve water quality by acting as a filter, said Hunter Roberts, a policy adviser to Gov. Dennis Daugaard.

"Buffer strips are a proven winner when it comes to water quality," Roberts said. "Good water quality benefits all of us."

The proposal would allow for the tax incentives on 50- to 120-foot buffers along waterways including 575 lakes and roughly 11,000 miles of streams in South Dakota. Eligible buffer strips would be assessed at 60 percent of the land's agricultural income value.

The measure would allow buffer strip vegetation to be harvested or mowed after July 10, but would require a minimum of 4 inches of cover at all times. Grazing would be prohibited from May through September to help keep livestock waste out of lakes and streams.

The proposal would be voluntary, but anyone who misrepresented facts to get a property tax break for a buffer strip would be subject to a fine.

Committee Chairman Gary Cammack said the bill isn't a huge incentive, but that he views it as a "thank you note" from government for doing the right thing.

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