Governor Walz releases ambitious $300M water infrastructure proposal

by Trevor Russell

(Photo by Anna Botz)

At FMR, we believe that every Minnesotan deserves access to clean, safe drinking water. That’s why we are thrilled to see that Gov. Walz has proposed that the state invest $300 million in water quality and water infrastructure projects during the 2020 legislative session.

This funding will help communities across the state in wastewater, drinking water and stormwater infrastructure projects that protect public health, water quality and economic vitality.

What’s a bonding bill again?

Simply put, bonding bills determine how much money the state will borrow to fund priority capital investments over time. Unlike other bills, they must receive a 60% majority in both chambers to pass. Historically, at least 22% goes to the environment. 

What’s in the governor’s proposal?  

Walz’s proposal calls for ambitious investments in drinking water, stormwater and wastewater systems across the state, including:

  • Water Infrastructure Funding (WIF) Program ($100 million)
    Supplemental assistance grants to communities for high-cost clean water and drinking water infrastructure projects that address existing environmental or public health problems. Water Infrastructure Fund (WIF) resources are used to supplement either low-interest loans from the Clean Water Revolving Fund or to match grant and loan funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Development. This funding would also support an expansion of this program to include drinking water infrastructure projects.
  • Point Source Implementation Grants Program ($75 million)
    Point Source Implementation Grants (PSIG) help local communities construct wastewater, stormwater and drinking water treatment projects fund water treatment plant upgrades to meet water quality restoration and protection goals. Funding is allocated on a competitive basis and provides grants of up to half of eligible costs, with a local match required.
  • State match for the Federal Wastewater Infrastructure Fund ($25 million)
    This $25 million in state funds will secure an additional $125 million in federal Clean Water and Drinking Water Revolving Funds. These funds provide low-interest loans to local governments for wastewater, stormwater and drinking water projects statewide. Eligible projects are prioritized based on environmental and public health criteria.
  • Metropolitan Council - Inflow and Infiltration Grant Program ($5 million)
    The governor recommends $5 million for grants to municipalities for public infrastructure improvements to reduce inflow and infiltration into local and regional wastewater collection systems.
  • Minneapolis: Central City Storm Tunnel ($19 million)
    This funding, matched by other sources, will fund work to expand and stabilize the city’s massive Central City Storm Tunnel — a system of deep stormwater tunnels constructed in the St. Peter Sandstone approximately 70 feet below the street surface — to prevent failure and avoid flooding and blowing manhole covers.

These proposals represent a significant upgrade in state investments to our water infrastructure. For an administration that has taken some criticism for lagging on conservation issues, this proposal is an excellent step forward for Minnesota.

Other important investments

Walz’s proposal also includes a pair of high-priority investments that FMR strongly supports:

  • Sustainable Communities and Climate Resiliency ($15 million)
    The governor recommends $15 million for grants to municipalities to build sustainable and resilient stormwater infrastructure, with a focus on managing extreme weather events. Preference would be given to projects that demonstrate a connection to local climate goals, improving water quality or minimizing the risks from extreme weather events.
  • Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program ($16.5 million)
    This funding for the state’s Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) will secure at least $32 million in a federal match and will fund the acquisition of permanent conservation easements in ecologically sensitive areas, which will help improve water quality and wildlife habitat.

In addition, the proposal includes a variety of local projects, including Superfund cleanup, Minnesota River restoration and water management systems for local parks.

One area of concern: chemical disposal

FMR is concerned about the inclusion of $2 million for the removal of dangerous PAHs (used in coal-tar sealants) that collect in stormwater ponds. Municipalities must dredge stormwater ponds to restore their water treatment capacity, but disposal of PAH-contaminated sediments is costly.

While we fully support this funding, we are concerned that it's not paired with a ban on the major source of these PAHs: coal tar sealants. While coal tar was banned (with FMR’s support) for use as an asphalt sealant, it is still legal to use for roof sealing and other applications — which end up discharging PAHs right back into stormwater ponds we just paid to clean up!

Investing taxpayer funds in the cleanup of PAH contamination without addressing the sources of these pollutants is shortsighted.

Additional items

Gov. Walz has released complete summaries of all four of his proposed bonding categories. We are pleased to see such investments also include funding for the Mississippi River 26th Ave North overlook, the Ground Rounds missing link, and the much sought-after River Recreation Environmental Education Center in St. Paul. In addition, the package includes strong investments in parks, trails, natural areas, urban forestry and more.

More information is available on each of the major bonding proposal categories: 
• Water infrastructure: Replacing Aging Infrastructure and Upgrading Water Treatment Facilities to Protect Public Health, Environment, Economy
• Higher education: Invest in Higher Education, Unlock Opportunity for Minnesota Students
• Quality of life: Invest in Emergency Services, Asset Preservation, and Local Projects
• Affordable housing: Investment in Safe and Affordable Housing

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