Tuesday, March 01, 2016

Hundreds of rural Minn. towns struggling to find funds to replace aging sewer and water systems

Hundreds of towns in rural Minnesota with limited budgets "are struggling to find money to replace aging wastewater, stormwater and drinking water systems or upgrade them to meet changing environmental standards," Bill Salisbury reports for the St. Paul Pioneer Press.

In the village of Dennison (Best Places map), population 190, Mayor Jeff Flaten has to perform a daily ritual of climbing into the sewer to make sure the village's two pumps are working, or else the sewer mains will get backed up. "The task landed in the mayor’s lap when the city’s longtime sewer and water system operator retired. Flaten hasn’t been able to hire a replacement, because not only is the work unpleasant but the lift station, built in 1962, also fails to meet federal safety standards." Flaten told Salisburg, “It’s obsolete and essentially dangerous."

Last month, Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton "proposed a $220 million plan to upgrade sewer and water systems and protect groundwater across the state," Salisbury writes. "About 60 percent of the state aid for water projects money would go to rural communities. His plan would increase state aid for municipal sewer and water projects from an average of $160 million to $300 million a year and enable the Minnesota Public Facilities Authority, which provides grants and loans to local governments, to fund up to 80 projects a year, compared with fewer than 50 now, said Jeff Freeman, the authority’s executive director."

"But that would just be a down payment on meeting cities’ needs," Salisburg writes. "The Pollution Control Agency and the state Health Department have 567 local projects totaling $1.7 billion on their priority lists for funding for sewer and water system construction over the next five years. Based on a survey of Minnesota cities, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates the state will need $11 billion in sewer and water improvements over the next 20 years."

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