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Minnesota Graphic Minnesota Wetland Report


A. The Wetland Conservation Act

In 1991, reacting to public concern about Minnesota’s disappearing wetlands, the Minnesota Legislature approved (and Governor Arne Carlson later signed) the Wetland Conservation Act. Considered one of the most comprehensive wetland laws in the country, it recognizes a number of wetland benefits deemed important:

  • Water quality benefits, including filtering pollutants out of surface water and groundwater, using nutrients that would otherwise pollute public waters, trapping sediments, protecting shoreline, and recharging groundwater supplies;

  • Floodwater and storm water retention benefits, including reducing the potential for flooding in the watershed;

  • Public recreation and education benefits, including hunting and fishing areas, wildlife viewing areas, and nature areas;

  • Commercial benefits, including wild rice and cranberry growing areas and aquaculture areas;

  • Fish and wildlife benefits;

  • Low-flow augmentation benefits during times of drought; and

  • Other public uses.

To retain these benefits and reach the legislation’s goal of no-net-loss of wetlands, the Wetland Conservation Act (WCA) requires anyone proposing to drain or fill a wetland first to try to avoid disturbing the wetland; second, to try to minimize any impact on the wetland; and, finally, to replace any lost wetland acres, functions, and values. (This process is called sequencing in the law.)  Certain wetland activities are exempt from the Act, allowing projects with minimal impact or projects located on land where certain pre-established land uses are present to proceed without regulation.

Local government units (LGUs)—cities, counties, watershed management organizations, soil and water conservation districts, and townships—implement the Act locally. The Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources (BWSR) administers the Act statewide, and the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) enforces it.

The Wetland Conservation Act took effect with an interim program in 1992 and became fully effective in January 1994.  During its first few years, legislators, state and federal agency personnel, local governments and interest groups focused on fine-tuning areas of the legislation that proved controversial and difficult to implement.  The Legislature approved several significant changes to WCA in 1996 and the current law seems to have struck a balance between resource protection and land development.

The law allows for differences in Minnesota’s geography by dividing the state into three sections: a section that has more than 80 percent of its original wetlands remaining, which tends to be northern and northeastern Minnesota; a section with between 50 percent and 80 percent of its original wetlands remaining, which tends to be central Minnesota; and a section with less than 50 percent of its original wetlands remaining, which tends to be southern and northwestern Minnesota. (Wetlands are considered "original" if present at the time of statehood in 1858.) Each of these geographic areas is treated somewhat differently in the law. In addition, in some instances the law treats the Twin Cities metropolitan area and Greater Minnesota differently, due to their vastly different development climates.

This report contains Wetland Conservation Act information reported by local governments as well as state and some federal agencies for calendar years 1997 and 1998. Some data from previous years are included to show trends.

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