Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Republicans continue war on water in bonding bill

Monday, Republicans in the Minnesota House released a $280 million bonding bill, about one-third the size of Governor Dayton's $775 million proposal. It's easy to fixate on some of the big projects that the House Republicans omitted from their bill (such as civic centers in Rochester and Mankato, higher education buildings, and a Saint Paul ballpark.) But buried in the bill is one line that grabbed my attention. The Republican bonding proposal effectively cuts $100 million from a fund that stops raw sewage from flowing into Minnesota's lakes and rivers. That's right - Republicans want you to drink from, swim in, and eat fish from waters contaminated by human waste.

MPR photo of "straight pipe" in southeastern Minnesota
Governor Dayton's bill includes $17.1 million in Clean and Drinking Water Matching Funds, which activates a five to one match (over $85 million) from the federal government. The Republicans cut the $17.1 million, which in turn would chop $102 million from proposed wastewater treatment and drinking water facilities projects. The $102 million goes to a revolving loan fund that helps municipalities pay for these essential and expensive projects.

There's a lot of demand on this loan fund. Over $1.5 billion in requested projects are competing for funds, and the 2011 Intended Use Plan for the Clean Water Revolving Fund identifies over $300 million in fundable projects that meet the scoring requirements of the program. If approved, governments are eligible for long term, low interest loans to allow them to do work that most could not do without assistance.

Some of the most immediate concerns involve "straight pipe" sewage systems that directly dump raw, untreated sewage into lakes, rivers, and streams. A 2004 House Research report estimated that 6.75 million gallons of raw sewage per day went directly into Minnesota waters. Since then, progress has been made through this loan fund, but much work remains to be done. Consider a few of the projects awaiting funding that might be chopped because of the Republican bonding bill:
In Silver Creek Township, 109 homes and 2 businesses directly discharge untreated sewage into the Stewart River and then into Lake Superior. They need a $3.4 million loan to fund a treatment facility and are #123 on the priority list. Do you like to stop at Betty's Pies on the north shore? They're right on the Stewart River. 
In Biscay, 46 homes and 2 businesses send untreated sewage directly into the South Fork of the Crow River. Building a treatment facility will cost $650,000 and this project is #20 on the priority list.  
On the shore of Lake of the Woods, Wheeler's Point has over a hundred homes and several businesses with inadequate sewage treatment that will require a $7 million treatment facility. It is #65 on the priority list.
All told, the projects that House Republicans cut from their bonding bill would stop hundreds of thousands of gallons of raw sewage from flowing into Minnesota lakes and streams every day. Other GOP proposals would allow the sale of Minnesota's waters to other states and end of conservation pricing of drinking water. Why is there a Republican war on water in Minnesota?

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