PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — A break on property taxes hasn’t spurred much participation in a cleaner-water program meant to reduce runoff from agricultural fields and pastures in South Dakota.
So state government is teaming with a wildlife group and others to offer cash payments to rural landowners through a new program they hope will encourage more vegetation strips.
The riparian buffer initiative — RBI for short — rolls out later this year.
The state Department of Agriculture and Natural Resources is joining with Pheasants Forever, the state Department of Game, Fish and Parks, and the East Dakota and James River water development districts, along with other organizations.
The estimated total budget is $14 million, spread across 10 years. The goal is to enroll 3,000 acres, in strips 50 to 120 feet wide with at least four inches of vegetation cover, along important stretches of waters that state and federal scientists have designated as impaired.
Payments are based on Conservation Reserve Program rates from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Along with targeted stream segments, payments will be 100% of the local CRP rate for cropland or pastureland for 10 years. For non-targeted stream segments, payments will be 50% of the local CRP rate.
Participants with pastureland in targeted stream segments will be eligible for fencing and alternative water expenses, too.
Landowners must have existing or planted perennial vegetation and can’t harvest or mow it from May 1 through August 1. Bales must be removed no later than November 15.
The waterways are in five basins. They include:
Parts of the Belle Fourche River and parts of Whitewood Creek in the Belle Fourche River basin.
Parts of Rapid Creek in the Upper Cheyenne River basin.
Three creeks — Dawson, Lonetree and Wolf — in the Lower James River basin.
Part of the Big Sioux River and Hidewood Creek in the Upper Big Sioux River basin.
Part of the Big Sioux River as well as a variety of creeks — Bachelor, West Pipestone, Pipestone, Split Rock, Beaver, Nine Mile, Brule and East Brule — in the Lower Big Sioux River basin.
The Legislature has already taken steps to promote more use of riparian buffer strips. Lawmakers this year increased the property-value deduction to 50%.
Legislators also earmarked $3 million for cleaning up the Big Sioux watershed. That goes toward the $14 million of RBI funding.
The grasses or other cover reduce the amount of factory chemicals, soil and natural nutrients that get washed into the water.
DANR spokesman Brian Walsh said the department is getting ready to open enrollment for producers.
He said the department and its partners in the project applied to the National Resource Conservation Services for a grant but didn’t get it. Now the groups are pursuing other funding sources to supplement the $3 million from the Legislature.
South Dakota has gradually eased into tax breaks for buffer strips. Democrat Senator Jim Peterson passed legislation in 2016 that Republican Governor Dennis Daugaard blocked with a veto. Daugaard came back with a different plan in 2017 that the Legislature passed. Then-Representative Herman Otten expanded Daugaard’s plan in 2018 to include tributaries.
“All South Dakotans have a vested interest in protecting our water resources,” Walsh said. “It’s not just a natural resource issue, it’s not just an ag issue, it’s an issue for everyone. And we need to work together to implement practical and effective solutions.”
He added, “Riparian buffers have a proven record of improving water quality. They also provide valuable habitat, stabilize stream banks, add forage for livestock, and reduce production costs on marginal croplands. Riparian buffers are an excellent conservation practice. They just aren’t used enough to make significant water quality improvement in South Dakota’s impaired water bodies.”
According to the state Department of Revenue, 48 parcels of land totaling 1,260 acres in eight counties were enrolled in the tax incentive program for buffer strips in the 2021 fiscal year.