Push begins for more clean-water funding

By Joe Albert Staff Writer

St. Paul – Funding to clean up the state’s lakes and rivers
received a $25 million shot in the arm this spring, but advocates
already are pushing next year’s Legislature – unknown as it now may
be – for more.

Lawmakers last spring passed a Clean Water Legacy, the framework
by which water in the state will be cleaned. Water groups said $40
million would be necessary to kickstart the program; legislators
allocated just more than 60 percent of the amount.

In the future, water groups say, at least $80 million to $100
million per year for 10 years is necessary.

Until that happens, the Clean Water Legacy is a start toward
clean water, but no legacy, said Allison Wolf, legislative director
at the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy.

‘This is a classic example of something that costs more when you
wait,’ she said. ‘The wise approach for Minnesota is to fund this
at the front end. It’s (already) a little too late to fund it at
the front end, but we need to get going as soon as we can.’

Though the recent legislative session adjourned just two months
ago, attempts to secure more clean water funding already are
beginning. The G16 group – a diverse group that developed the Clean
Water Legacy Act – is staying together to push for more funding.
That group, which met earlier this week, has met twice since the
session ended.

In August the Duck Rally coalition, which pushed for dedicated
funding for natural resources, including a part for clean water, is
holding a retreat to put together funding ideas and proposals.

And two groups will hold debates in September that will include
most key candidates and discussion about clean water funding, said
John Tuma of the Minnesota Environmental Partnership.

Advocates also plan to pressure Gov. Tim Pawlenty to direct
state agencies to include increased funding for clean water in
their budgets. Part of that advocacy hopefully will come from the
Clean Water Council, a 19-member group that will advise on money
spent on the Clean Water Legacy, Wolf said.

That council is in the process of being set up.

Said Tuma: ‘(We’re asking the governor) to commit to a directive
to the agencies to look at full funding for the Clean Water Legacy
and what that would mean from the agency perspective.’

At this point, the funding source for clean water still is in
question. It could come from a dedicated source – like part of the
state’s sales tax – or from the General Fund. Or it could be
something entirely different, or a combination of approaches.

At this point, discussions with politicians are under way to
determine if dedicated funding is feasible, or if supporters are
‘just barking up a tree,’ Tuma said.

Tuesday was the final day to file for elected office, and once
that was complete Tuma expects the various groups to begin talking
to the candidates in earnest.

‘We’ll have a better picture of who we are talking to and what
the key races are,’ he said.

Gary Botzek, of the Minnesota Conservation Federation and
Minnesota Waters, and chair of MEP’s government relations
committee, said it’s critical this year to start talking to
politicians early about the need for increased clean water

Waiting until the fall would put clean water funding ‘five miles
behind the (starting) line,’ Botzek said.

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