SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — Gov. Dennis Daugaard’s administration is proposing a plan that would encourage people to install buffer strips of vegetation between agricultural land and hundreds of lakes and thousands of miles of streams, an adviser to the governor said Wednesday.
The draft bill is meant to improve water quality in South Dakota, said Hunter Roberts, a policy adviser to the governor. It would offer property tax breaks for land turned into buffer strips to help trap fertilizer, pesticides and sediments before they reach water.
The proposal allows 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 administration will present the draft bill to a legislative task force next week for its consideration.
“It’s a proven thing to work for water quality,” Roberts said, adding that it’s a good next step for the state to “give producers and landowners the opportunity to have some financial benefit to doing buffer strips.”
The measure would allow buffer strip vegetation to be harvested or mowed after July 10, but would require a minimum of 6 inches of cover at all times. Grazing would be prohibited from May through September to help keep livestock waste out of lakes and streams, Roberts said.
The proposal would be voluntary, but anyone who misrepresents facts to get a property tax break for a buffer strip would be subject to a monetary penalty.
The governor’s administration is taking small steps to improve water quality, said Barry Berg, watershed coordinator for the Big Sioux River Watershed Implementation Project. Berg said he would like to see the option for both smaller and larger buffers to give landowners more flexibility.
“I don’t think it’s going to be a huge flood of people coming in because of it, but it may help a little bit,” Berg said.
The administration’s plan comes after Daugaard rejected a bill that used a different mechanism to offer tax breaks for buffers in March, citing constitutional and property tax concerns. The new measure is the administration’s best effort to reap the benefits of buffer strips while complying with the state constitution, Roberts said.
The South Dakota Corn Growers Association opposed the earlier measure, saying it would change the tax structure without effectively inducing farmers to install buffer strips. The new proposal looks like something the group can work with, executive director Lisa Richardson said.
“We all want to do things that protect our water and this is one tool that could do it,” she said.