ST PAUL — Democratic Gov. Tim Walz is recommending the state spend $300 million on infrastructure to support the "most basic need of Minnesotans: clean, safe water."
Walz on Friday, Jan. 10 said it is "imperative" that the state upgrade water treatment facilities and replace aging waste- and storm-water infrastructure. With many local communities unable to afford expensive updates to their water infrastructure, Walz said the state "must take action to protect our environment and the health of Minnesotans."
"Every Minnesotan deserves access to clean water, yet that isn't the case in many communities across the state, especially out in greater Minnesota," he said at Friday's news conference. "Aging infrastructure threatens both the safety of drinking water as well as the quality of our lakes and rivers that we treasure so much."
Minnesota Pollution Control Agency Commissioner Laura Bishop said at Friday's news conference that local governments across Minnesota have requested state funding to complete 983 water infrastructure projects, totaling more than $4 billion in the next 20 years. Some of the state's oldest infrastructure dates back to the 19th century, and is "becoming obsolete, putting communities and the public health at risk," she said.
And the need for fully functioning water infrastructure is more important than ever, Bishop said said, with greater and faster precipitation, quicker springtime melting periods, and overall more instances of extreme weather thanks to climate change. Last spring, major flooding caused nearly $40 million in infrastructure damage, and record summertime rainfall forced over 100 communities to release partially untreated wastewater into rivers and streams, Bishop said.
"There are real consequences for our communities across the state if the state does nothing," Bishop said, including bodily injuries and damage to property and infrastructure during major floods, as well as public health concerns associated with partially treated water.
"We cannot continue at this pace," Bishop said. "We must invest in climate resiliency."
Audrey Nelsen, president of the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities President and Willmar City Council member, in a Friday news release called Walz's water infrastructure proposal "great news for Greater Minnesota." She said water infrastructure "needs to be addressed now," and state funding will prevent local residents and businesses from having to shoulder the costs.
“Water infrastructure funding needs to be the cornerstone of this year’s bonding bill," Nelsen said. "Our communities cannot continue to hold off on repairing and upgrading their facilities."
Friday's announcement was the second of Walz's four-part bonding package, which he says will total near $2 billion and cover projects in affordable housing, water infrastructure, higher education and public safety. Republican legislators have already begun questioning the price tag, pushing to cut the number in half to around $1 billion.
Walz pushed back at Friday's news conference, saying Republicans' "haven't even seen" the full package, and calling their $1 billion benchmark "arbitrary."
"You have to ask yourself the question, are these not valuable projects? Should we not do them?" Walz said. "It's just irresponsible."
Asked if he would be willing to compromise around $1.5 billion, Walz said he thinks $2 billion "is the proper number."
"I think if they'd do a good job they'd come in at my number," he said.