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Dayton pitches $220 million plan to fix state’s aging water systems

Gov. Mark Dayton looks at a map that shows a portion of his plan to update the state’s aging water infrastructure and protect water quality during a Jan. 14 news conference. Photo by Paul Battaglia

Gov. Mark Dayton says he wants to invest nearly $220 million to modernize Minnesota’s creaking drinking water and wastewater infrastructure as part of a larger borrowing plan.

Calling it a “significant portion” of his total capital investment proposal set to be laid out Friday morning, Dayton unveiled an initiative Thursday focused on improving water systems and water quality across the state, which he said have been neglected for too long.

Dayton’s plan would allocate $167 million in state capital investment funding to help cities that cannot afford to make critical updates in water infrastructure that is, in some cases, roughly a century old.

The proposal would also invest $52.7 million in water quality protection initiatives through the Pollution Control Agency, the Board of Water and Soil Resources, and the Metropolitan Council. Water quality and infrastructure improvement will be an emphasis during Dayton’s final three years in office, he said at a news conference.

MORE Learn more about the governor's proposed water infrastructure improvement initiative

State officials said the proposed spending is three or four times the amount dedicated to water quality in any previous bonding bill.

“Minnesota has long been known for the abundance and quality of its water,” Dayton said. “It is no longer something we can take for granted.”

With the federal Environmental Protection Agency projecting roughly $11 billion in needed water infrastructure updates across the state, Dayton acknowledged his proposal represents only a first step. The governor also admits he “set the bar high” with his $220 million proposal and that he doesn’t expect it will be funded in full.

Dayton’s proposal would allow the state to nearly double its assistance to local governments for water projects, from $160 million to nearly $300 million. The proposed $220 million would:

  • invest $62 million in the state’s Point Source Implementation Grant Program to help communities pay for treatment plant upgrades;
  • provide $80 million to the Water Infrastructure Funding Program to increase aid to communities that need to rehabilitate wastewater and drinking water infrastructure systems;
  • allocate $25 million to match federal grants for low-interest loans to local governments for essential clean water and drinking water projects that serve residents and businesses;
  • help reimburse farmers and private landowners for making improvements to restore and protect water quality related to the new buffer law enacted last year by investing $30 million in the Reinvest in Minnesota Reserve program;
  • provide $5 million for a Metropolitan Council inflow/infiltration grant program that provides matching grants to local governments undertaking projects to keep clean water from entering the municipal wastewater system;
  • invest $5 million in the Local Government Roads Wetlands Replacement Program that is aimed at replacing an estimated 300 acres of wetlands that are lost due to road construction; and
  • contribute $12.7 million toward the state’s portion of costs related to a project that is cleaning up contaminated sediment and industrial waste from the St. Louis River Estuary and Duluth harbor. 

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