How FMR's priorities for the Mississippi River fared this session
FMR made progress on every single one of its priorities this legislative session.
That's something we don't often get to say, and should give you a pretty good indication of how our program staff are feeling at the end of this four-month advocacy sprint.
Among our successes: Legislators showed real support for our vision of sustainable, river-friendly agriculture. River Guardians, community members and news media all recognized the urgency needed to protect our waterways from invasive carp, leading to initial funding. The mysteries of St. Anthony Falls' hidden hazard, the cutoff wall, will soon be uncovered. Voters will have the opportunity to rededicate lottery funds to the great outdoors.
Taking an even wider view, there were many other bills we didn't directly work on this session but are thrilled to have seen pass (read more about those here), and there were no major rollbacks of policies we support. This fruitful legislative session will have a long-lasting, positive impact on the Mississippi River and all of the wondrous communities it supports — from humans, to wildlife, to plants.
Still, there's more we'd like to get done. We're readying to make progress on a Clean Transportation Standard and urge the DNR to use funding for an invasive carp barrier in the months ahead. And of course, we'll continue working with lawmakers to meet our ambitious goals in 2024.
Below, take a closer look at how FMR's priorities fared this year.
Is the St. Anthony Falls cutoff wall on the verge of failure? Or is the aging, unmonitored, concrete structure beneath the riverbed still in good shape?
Much to our relief, answers to those questions are coming soon. Legislators this session recognized the importance of this critical infrastructure and agreed to fund a study that will determine the cutoff wall's current condition. Excitingly, experts and advocates made such a compelling case that lawmakers awarded even more than our original request.
We still have to sort out who exactly owns the cutoff wall (and therefore, who is responsible for upkeep). But getting the lowdown on its condition is a massively important step for the security of our water supply and infrastructure.
Read more: Shedding light on St. Anthony Falls' hidden hazard
The public and political momentum we've seen for clean-water crops over the past year continues to grow.
Lawmakers awarded the Forever Green Initiative about $1.6 million in ongoing base funding, plus $6 million from the Clean Water Fund — both high-water marks for the program in terms of legislative funding. The market development grants program for "continuous living cover" crops also got a boost, with $500,000 over two years.
In a year with a record budget surplus, would we have liked to see a more robust commitment to these sustainable agriculture practices? Of course. When it comes down to it though, all of this is great news. Particularly within the context of a limited agriculture budget that forced some difficult decisions.
Read more: How this session moves us closer to a sustainable agricultural economy
Invasive carp made a splash during this year's legislative session. Our push for a barrier at Lock and Dam 5 garnered bipartisan support and media attention, with our petition demanding action on invasive carp garnering more than 1,000 signatures. A record-breaking carp catch in March also underscored the urgency of the situation.
The funding legislators awarded for invasive carp management, unfortunately, was significantly less than is ultimately needed. The good news is, it does allow the DNR to begin pursuing long-term solutions, including the design of a carp barrier — which is what we'll be pushing for.
While this is a good start, our efforts are far from over.
Read more: How this year's funding sets the stage for a carp barrier
FMR's conservation team will get to take on exciting (and important) new projects thanks to lawmakers' actions this session.
Two initiatives — some new pollinator research, and restoration and enhancement at five important sites — successfully made their way through the legislative process. In addition to supporting our growing list of sites (see a map of where we work), this will allow FMR to keep building on our existing pollinator and wildlife research.
Read more about these conservation projects and the pollinator research
Minnesota has taken a big step toward replacing all lead drinking water lines in the state.
A $240 million commitment from the Legislature (which strategically takes advantage of some matching federal dollars) means a significant percentage of the estimated 100,000-plus lead service lines still in use here could be replaced in the coming years.
FMR was proud to work alongside and support our coalition partners who were instrumental in making this happen, and we are thrilled to see Minnesota one step closer to lead-free drinking water.
Read more: An overwhelming victory for safe drinking water
A Clean Transportation Standard would be a big victory for the climate and a boon for the Mississippi River, making a real dent in what is currently Minnesota’s number one source of greenhouse gasses: transportation emissions.
We'd hoped to come out of this session with a rulemaking process that would establish such a standard. While that didn't happen, we did set the stage for legislators to act in 2024 thanks to the creation of a diverse working group charged with a clear task — and a deadline for coming back with some Clean Transportation Standard recommendations.
Read more: How we get to a river-friendly Clean Transportation Standard
Your chance to protect one of Minnesota's primary funding sources for the great outdoors will come next year.
Thanks to the Legislature, 2024 voters will have the opportunity to rededicate lottery funds to the Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund (ENRTF) via a ballot question. Legislators also approved a new grants program that makes this conservation funding more accessible to underserved communities.
There were a few opportunities to really strengthen this fund during the session, and we can't help but be a little disappointed they fizzled out. We'll advocate for those measures next legislative session. All in all though, this is a victory for the state's great outdoors.
Read more: Lottery funding for the environment: What happened, and what could have been
This year's Clean Water Fund recommendations marked a significant first: Lawmakers honored the entirety of the Clean Water Council’s recommendations for how to spend these funds. That's never happened in the history of the Clean Water Fund, and is a testament to the council’s hard work in bringing those recommendations forward.
There's also a lot to like in the bill, including support for one of FMR's top priorities.