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Coalition to lawmakers: Fund water infrastructure

(The Center Square) – The Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities (CGMC), Conservation Minnesota, IUOE Local 49, and LIUNA Minnesota & North Dakota called on the state to fund clean water projects. 

The coalition estimated cities statewide face billions of dollars in repairs to replace aging wastewater infrastructure and comply with new regulations.

“The organizations assembled here today represent a coalition of local governments, environmental advocates, and labor who have joined together to urge the Legislature to seize the moment and pass an ambitious and transformational package of water and wastewater infrastructure funding,” CGMC Executive Director Bradley Peterson said in a statement.

At the Capitol, Peterson asked the Legislature to support two bills that aim to repair water infrastructure systems.

House File 3858/Senate File 3545 aims to spend $299 million in state bonding for grant and loan programs administered by the Public Facilities Authority (PFA). The bill would spend another $80 million per biennium, and $75 million for Point Source Implementation Grant Program, and $5 million per biennium for technical assistance grants.

The bills are sponsored by Rep. Liz Boldon, DFL-Rochester, and Sen. Andrew Lang, R-Olivia,

“We know that pollutants like nitrate, PFAS, and sulfate are increasingly challenging for drinking water and wastewater operators to manage,” Conservation Minnesota Executive Director Paul Austin said in a statement. “This expanded funding can ensure that communities have safe water to drink; and the lakes and rivers, and streams Minnesotans love are safe for swimming and fishing.”

More than 200 cities are planning upcoming water and wastewater infrastructure projects, which the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) estimates will cost $12.3 billion statewide over the next 20 years.

In February, the state projected a $9.2 billion surplus. Austin Mayor Steve King said these bills would help local government complete hefty water instructure plans. For example, King says Austin needs an $86.2 million project that, without state help, would hike the cost on ratepayers by 75% between 2018 and 2023.

“The proposed legislation would help cities across Minnesota, like Austin, facing expensive infrastructure projects in dire need of state support,” King said in a statement.

The second bill, HF4115, aims to map and fund replacing all residential lead service lines by 2032. The bill seeks to provide $10 million in grants to map and inventory lead service lines statewide and $30 million per year for 10 years to replace lines.

Rep. Sydney Jordan, DFL-Minneapolis, and Sen. David Senjem, R-Rochester sponsored the bills.

“For decades we have known that thousands of Minnesotan households have lead pipes delivering drinking water to their homes,” said Conservation Minnesota Executive Director Paul Austin. “This is a threat to the health and development of children living in these homes.”

The Natural Resources Defense Council estimates Minnesota has 260,000 lead lines currently delivering drinking water to homes in Minnesota.

The work would also create thousands of construction jobs. 

“Transformational investment in our water infrastructure will multiply career opportunities and training for local workers and build momentum to bring more women, veterans, and people of color into the construction industry,” Joel Smith, LIUNA President and Business Manager of Minnesota and North Dakota, said in a statement.

The coalition also asked the state to bond funds for stormwater infrastructure, public infrastructure improvements, and individual municipal water and wastewater projects not adequately addressed.

“As we know, there is no safe level of lead drinking water,” Peterson said in a statement. “There is no excuse, given the resources available, to allow our most basic infrastructure to continue to be a danger to the health of our state’s residents.”

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