An update to the state’s Clean Water Act could make it easier for local units of government to receive financial assistance for water and soil projects, but some lawmakers worry the new process lacks due diligence.
Sponsored by Rep. Peter Fischer (DFL-Maplewood), HF3908 would make a number of changes to the act. The amended bill was held over Tuesday by the House Environment and Natural Resources Policy and Finance Committee for possible omnibus bill inclusion. Its companion, SF3647, sponsored by Sen. Mark Johnson (R-East Grand Forks), awaits action by the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Policy and Legacy Finance Committee.
Among the bill’s most important modifications is a provision that would allow the Board of Water and Soil Resources to provide financial assistance to other local units of government, using a watershed-based approach instead of current performance-based guidelines to determine where assistance is awarded.
Fischer said current laws and statutes focus too narrowly addressing surface waters, particularly impaired surface waters.
“The problem is that it ignores a lot of other issues we have out there,” he said. “It ignores our groundwater. It ignores waters that are still high quality, it ignores waters that are slowly becoming impaired.”
Some lawmakers, however, are wary of ditching performance-based standards altogether.
“It troubles me a lot that we’re not using measurements and you’re just saying we want to do projects, [that] we’re not going to measure our outcomes in the law,” said Rep. Jean Wagenius (DFL-Mpls). “We’re getting rid of that. I think we’re going backwards … we will have no way of knowing if the taxpayers’ dollars are being spent effectively or not.”
The change to performance-based standards, Fischer said, was included to give agencies greater flexibility when responding to disasters and emergency situations.
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