Group wants fees to help clean water in Minnesota

ST. PAUL -- A diverse group of organizations is putting the finishing touches on a legislative proposal to upgrade the quality of the state's lakes and rivers, many of which are polluted. That strategy carries a huge price tag: an estimated $75 million to $100 million a year.

Outlining how the state should conduct and pay for the effort, the group -- which includes public, private, business, agricultural and environmental groups -- is proposing a broad fee or tax: All homeowners would pay $36 a year and businesses $150.

"We thought a flat rate was the right way to start out," said Craig Johnson, a lobbyist for the League of Minnesota Cities, one of about 60 groups involved.

Whether Gov. Tim Pawlenty and legislators go along with that approach is unclear.

"That is a vast amount of money to come up with at this point," said Rep. Michael Jungbauer, R-East Bethel.


One of several legislators who got a peek at the initiative last week, Jungbauer said he favors a strategy that would have water users or polluters shouldering more of the burden.

But that's a problem, according to group members, who point out that 86 percent of the pollution that now funnels into lakes and streams is essentially urban and rural runoff, meaning there's often no identifiable source.

At this point, the group would have individual homeowners pay an extra $3 a month on their water bills. Homeowners with septic tanks would pay an extra $36 a year on their property tax bills. Businesses, regardless of size, would pay $150 a year.

The Legislature, which meets Feb. 2, would have the final say on the proposal, which would come from the Pawlenty administration.

The federal Clean Water Act mandates the state identify lakes and streams that fail to meet certain water-quality standards, cite the specific problems and causes, and make reasonable progress toward improving them.

So far, the state has assessed 5 percent of its streams and 12 percent of its lakes. About 40 percent of those water bodies or river stretches have been determined to be impaired, a pollution rate that's close to the national average.

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