DNR Strips Public Status from 640 Miles of Minnesota Streams

June 18, 2017 11:04 PM

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has abruptly removed 640 miles of streams, rivers and ditches from its inventory of public water.

The DNR issued the order quickly after it uncovered a procedural error made in the 1980s. The Minnesota Center of Environmental Advocacy has since filed an appeal with the state Court of Appeals in an effort to reverse the DNR's decision.

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The MCEA argues the action puts actual public water at risk of being dammed, drained or polluted without a permit. Leigh Currie, an attorney for MCEA, said the impacted waters lie in 71 counties.

"There was no advanced notice, no hearings, there was no opportunity to provide written comment," Currie said. "Some of the traditional ways we would engage with the DNR in decisions like this didn't happen in this case."

RELATED: Minnesota Releases 6 Alternatives for Buffer Law Compliance

One of the three-mile-long, unnamed streams stripped of public status runs right through Joel Schema's prized property in Faribault.

"It's definitely a good waterway," Schema said. "There's been crappies when I was a kid. I've seen northern, walleye." 

He said the stream is regularly polluted by a nearby culvert carrying beer cans and other trash. He, too, is upset the water is no longer protected under the DNR's jurisdiction.

"It would have been nice if they would have worked with people and homeowners that live on it," Schema said. "A lot of it is just fields by (the stream), where me -- I'm 75 feet from the creek."

RELATED: Dayton Fends Off Attacks on Buffer Strips, Environment Board

While planning to implement the controversial new buffer strip law, the DNR discovered a procedural error made decades ago. Six-hundred-forthy miles of streams, rivers and ditches were designated public without any notice to the landowners who border them. 

"Landowners at the time of the original public water inventory may not have had full public process and opportunity to comment on the fact that these were going to be public waters," DNR Assistant Commissioner Barb Naramore said.

Naramore admits much, and possibly all, of the water could very well meet the criteria to be public, but believes the agency had to strip the public status to find a balance between due process and resource protection.

"Then we can look at a process to have full, complete public involvement and take a look at putting them back on the public waters inventory," Naramore said.

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Tyler Berg

Copyright 2017 - KSTP-TV, LLC A Hubbard Broadcasting Company

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