It is unusual to be appropriating $26m of Clean Water Legacy dollars in the second year of the biennium. After all last year we appropriated $211,000,000 from the Clean Water Fund for fiscal years 2018 and 2019.
While the large second year appropriation is unusual, the process for allocating the money at least in the beginning was very usual. The agencies divvied up the money—called the Governor’s recommendation. Using the Governor’s recommendations as a base, the Clean Water Council then made its recommendations. Legislators are told we must follow the Clean Water Council’s recommendations.
Several weeks ago, Rep. Torkelson came up with his plan for spending the $25m and that is the plan in the bill before you.
So I expect you are assuming that I am going to say something like, we should go back to the Clean Water Council’s plan.
I am not.
Legislators are responsible for appropriating the money and should be held accountable for the outcomes from appropriating the money.
As of today, we legislators, generally following the recommendations of the state agencies and Clean Water Council, have appropriated roughly a billion dollars of the Clean Water Money over the last 10 years. That’s billion with a B.
And we have failed—abysmally failed—to deliver what Minnesotan’s wanted when they passed the Legacy amendment. Citizens wanted clean drinking water. But a billion dollars later, drinking water sources are getting more contaminated, not less.
When we wrote the proposed constitutional amendment, pollsters told us in no uncertain terms that of the things that we were proposing, clean drinking water was the most important and would be the reason Minnesotans would vote for the amendment.
So the question to Minnesotans — the one Minnesotans saw on their ballots— started by saying, In order to protect drinking water….
Basically drinking water comes to Minnesotans in one of three ways—from private wells, from municipal wells and from surface water, mainly the Mississippi. We have failed Minnesotans on all three counts.
The Minnesota Department of Agriculture has been testing private wells but only in areas that are vulnerable to pollution and planted in row crops.
So far, the Department has found that 1,912 private wells are over the health risk limit for nitrogen and that where there is nitrogen in the water, there are pesticides.
The only wells tested are those where the owner volunteers. It is not hard to project how many wells would be over the health risk limit if all the wells in the chosen townships were tested. That number is 5,532. And it will be going up.
Just as an aside, almost all of these contaminated wells are in Republican districts. It is beyond my understanding why Republicans haven’t offered to help these well owners whose wells were contaminated though no fault of their own. After all we have a history of justice— of helping other Minnesotans when they are harmed through no fault of their own—floods and tornados come to mind.
But back to private well testing. The Department of Health used to offer well testing but they don’t anymore. They don’t even have a good way to let people know that wells should be tested once a year.
I know you are hearing about contaminated municipal wells. Think Mankato. Mankato is asking the legislature for help because its municipal wells are now contaminated with nitrogen.
The Department of Health has identified 407,000 acres of land around vulnerable municipal wells that should be protected. They have identified 9,900 acres that are protected. 9,900 protected out of 407,000 vulnerable acres that need to be protected.
And if that isn’t bad enough, the Department of Health has only finished plans for slightly more than half of the municipal wells. Plans, not implementation, just plans.
The Department of Health’s plan to protect the Mississippi, drinking water source for over a million Minnesotans is basically non existent. They don’t even test the river for drinking water pollutants so those running treatment systems don’t know what to check for in their finished water.
And if the Health Department did test, we still wouldn’t have very good information. They are missing some very obvious standards.
We made a clean drinking waters promise to Minnesotans. And this is where we are—a billion dollars later. A billion dollars.