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Governor: Use $220M to improve Minnesota's 'serious' water quality issues

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Last year the condition of Minnesota's fresh water was laid bare after pollution experts revealed the toll intensive farming was having on Minnesota's lakes, rivers and groundwater.

And the high-profile contamination of water supplies that led to lead poisoning in Flint, Michigan, this month thrust the issue of water safety into the national conversation.

Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton presented a plan to tackle these problems in 2016.

The governor wants to spend $220 million from his upcoming jobs bonding bill on upgrading and protecting Minnesota's freshwater supplies, according to a press release.

If approved by the legislature in the upcoming session, $167 million would be given to Minnesota communities to "modernize aging wastewater and drinking water infrastructure," protecting it from potential chemical or biological contamination and replacing existing systems that Dayton says are decades old.

Without the state funding these improvements, many communities would be forced to implement big hikes in water and sewerage rates to fund local improvements in the coming years, Dayton said.

Here's a broad look at where these projects would occur, placed on a map that shows how polluted waters in certain areas of the state are. There's a full list of the projects here – including what would be done, and how much money would go toward it.

More money for buffer program

A further $30 million will go towards the governor's "Buffer Strips" program, which is designed to combat the contamination of streams, lakes and rivers that have been rendered un-swimmable and un-fishable by agricultural chemicals seeping into them through the soil (detailed in this story here).

The project was approved last year and will see strips of vegetation, up to 50 feet, replace farmland next to fresh water sources. The $30 million will be used to reimburse farmers and landowners for their loss of land.

The proposal is the first step on what will be a major investment program over the next two decades, during which time the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates Minnesota will need $11 billion in water infrastructure improvements – about 60 percent of which is in rural Minnesota.

"Many Minnesota communities are facing serious water quality challenges," Dayton said in the news release. “Without state help, more and more Minnesotans will face steep increases in their local water utility bills to pay for clean, safe drinking water. We can no longer ignore these problems with our state's water quality. They are everyone’s challenge and everyone’s responsibility."

How else would the money be spent?

Here are a few other proposed uses for the money.

  • A further $5 million would be used to replace 300 acres of wetlands due to be lost due to road construction across the state.
  • Some $12.7 million would be given to Duluth to clean up contaminated sediment and industrial waste at 10 spots along the St. Louis River Estuary and Duluth harbor and bay. This would be met with more federal funding.
  • In future years, the State would increase assistance to municipalities from an average of $160 million to $300 million per year. If approved, the water infrastructure plan would fund up to 80 projects a year, compared to fewer than 50 now.

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