ST. PAUL — State regulators on Monday, Aug. 10, reaffirmed that five streams in south-central and northwest Minnesota are covered by public waterway protections.
Under a proposal announced Monday, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources will add the four streams in Renville County and one stream in Polk County back to the state public waters list they were removed from in 2017. Roughly 640 miles of waterway in 70 separate counties were purged from the list that year to correct what the DNR termed a "procedural error."
But regardless of whether the proposal is approved, the DNR said in a public notice posted Monday, "these watercourses have been and will remain subject to all applicable public waters regulations."
The DNR removed entries on the state Public Waters Inventory in 2017 after discovering that many had for decades been erroneously labeled as public drainage ditches. As a result, landowners whose property they are located on were never properly notified.
Waters listed on the inventory are subject to additional regulations and, for example, cannot be drained or ditched without the right permits. They are also subject to Minnesota's buffer law, which requires lakes, rivers and streams to have vegetative buffers between 30- and 50-feet wide. Ditches, by contrast, only need to have 16.5-foot wide buffers.
The practice is thought to help stabilize shores and banks as well as to keep runoff out of waterways.
But plans to re-add dropped entries to the inventory that do meet the statutory definition of a public body of water have been slow to unfold. The Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, which previously petitioned against the DNR's decision, spoke positively of Monday's announcement, but was critical of the department's pace.
"Two-and-a-half years ago, DNR told a court they would restore public waters incorrectly deleted from the list by the end of 2019," advocacy center senior attorney Elise Larson said in a news release. "While we applaud this action today, DNR needs a plan to correct all of the errors across the state as they promised years ago."
Included in the proposal announced Monday are the Limbo and Sacred Heart creeks in Renville County, which measure roughly 7 and 6 miles, respectively. A 2-mile, unnamed creek in Sletten Township is the only stream from Polk County to be included.
One reason that the streams included in the proposal were chosen, according to DNR conservation assistance and regulation manager Randall Doneen, is because the department was already aware of local land-use proposals that could affect them and that are waiting to be resolved.
Another, he said, is that the DNR was "having trouble managing the workload and how much work it was going to take to do the whole state."
"This is a test to see how much energy it takes for us to get through this process," Doneen said.
As for other waters removed from the inventory, Doneen said more could be returned to it beginning in 2021. Public comments on the DNR's proposal announced Monday, meanwhile, are being accepted from now until Nov. 11.