Saturday, January 28th, 2023
Saturday, January 28th, 2023

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Impaired waters bills hit St. Paul this week

Staff Writer

St. Paul Senate and House bills addressing impaired waters track
closely with the recommendations of a group of environmental,
business, and farm interests, which last year outlined a strategy
to clean up Minnesota’s waters.

The proposal, known as “The Clean Water Legacy,” would raise
about $80 million per year through new user fees on septic systems
and sewer connections. Bills have been introduced in the Senate and
House, and proponents are optimistic the proposal will become law
this session.

“It does seem to be something that’s politically viable,” said
Anne Hunt of the Minnesota Environmental Partnership.

The group proposed a similar fee in 2004, but tweaked it this
session to include exemptions for those who couldn’t afford to pay
the fee $36 per year for residential sewer and septic system
hookups; between $120 and $600 per year for businesses, based on
their water usage.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty indicated he would sign this version of the
bill, Hunt said. Sen. Dennis Frederickson, R-New Ulm, carried the
bill in the Senate. Rep. Dennis Ozment, R-Rosemount, carried it in
the House. Other authors include Speaker of the House Steve
Sviggum, R-Kenyon, and Sen. Majority Leader Dean Johnson,
DFL-Willmar.

The money raised would be spent on three areas: monitoring and
assessment of lakes, rivers, and streams; funding the work required
by the federal Clean Water Act for waters listed as impaired,
called total maximum daily load, or TMDL; and protection and
restoration of the state’s waters.

More than $11 million would be collected and spent during fiscal
year 2006, which begins July 1, 2005. The full $80 million would be
collected and spent beginning in fiscal year 2007.

A “Clean Water Council” made up of many of the stakeholders who
drafted the proposal would oversee distribution of the money.

The majority of money raised would protect and restore impaired
waters. In 2006, more than $7.3 million of the $11 million, or
about 66 percent, would go for protection and restoration. When the
act is fully implemented, more than $72 million, or about 90
percent, will be used to protect and restore point and non-point
pollution sources.

“These resources would all go to needs that are well identified
and well articulated,” said Nelson French, the Minnesota Pollution
Control Agency’s legislative liaison.

The group of supporters included agencies such as the Minnesota
Chamber of Commerce, Minnesota Farm Bureau, and the League of
Minnesota Cities. They proposed more than $2 million for the
assessment of streams, lakes, and rivers in 2006. That number would
reach more than $7 million by 2009.

So far, 14 percent of the state’s lakes, and 8 percent of river
miles, have been tested. Forty percent of the waters tested were
found to be contaminated with things like mercury, phosphorous, and
human and animal waste.

The Clean Water Act mandates that states test their waters;
identify any pollutants and where they originated; figure out how
much contamination the water can absorb while still maintaining
quality standards; and develop a cleanup plan. Noncompliance can
expose the state to lawsuits, and can limit development on impaired
waters.

“We’ve always considered it an environmental imperative to clean
these up, but the way the Clean Water Act works, it’s also becoming
an economic development imperative,” said John Curry, legislative
director for the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy.

Economic benefits aside, anglers will benefit from cleaning up
waters, Curry said.

“This is the act that will turn our bullhead and carp fisheries
into much better game-species types of waters,” he said.

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