- Associated Press - Thursday, March 16, 2017

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) - Gov. Mark Dayton on Thursday celebrated the progress of his marquee environmental initiative aimed at improving Minnesota’s water quality and said he won’t bow to legislative pressure to postpone its November deadline.

Dayton and legislators passed a law in 2015 requiring buffer areas between cropland and waterways. Dayton and state officials said Thursday that nearly 75 percent of Minnesota counties are well on their way to meeting those requirements.

“This is about protecting the water of Minnesota for ourselves, our neighbors down the stream and future generations,” Dayton said. “This is our state. This is our water. It is our responsibility.”

Department of Agriculture Commissioners Dave Fredrickson said he believes the state will meet a Nov. 1 deadline. The state has worked with more than 350 different farms to address hundreds of practices to improve environment protections.

But Republican Rep. Paul Torkelson, a Hanska farmer, said much of the progress Dayton celebrated Thursday involves buffers that have long been in place. Torkelson said many farmers are confused about the rules surrounding the initiative, so he is working on legislation to give counties control of the project and push back the deadline by a year. The bill is not meant to be obstructive, he said, but to make the changes easier for farmers.

Torkelson’s proposal has yet to gather much of a backing. He said he hopes to sit down with the Department of Natural Resources and Dayton to figure out a plan to move forward.

Dayton said he won’t sign any legislation to alter the deadline, after having already loosened buffer requirements for private ditches last year.

Twelve of the 87 counties in the state are close to 100 percent compliance. Commissioners pointed to more than 2,800 changes to which areas require buffers as a sign of the state’s willingness to work with residents who are concerned about the issue.

The buffers are 50-foot wide spaces between crops and water that are covered in tall native grasses. The roots and dirt filter out pollutants and help prevent the water banks from eroding.

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