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Biennial water-quality proposal boosted by February budget forecast

A biennial water-quality spending plan funded by a voter-approved sales tax could include $36.6 million more than initially proposed because of the state's better-than-expected February budget forecast.

HF639, sponsored by Rep. Rick Hansen (DFL-South St. Paul) would allocate $256.8 million from the Clean Water Fund to dozens of water-quality projects in fiscal years 2022-23.

That's compared to the $220.2 million plan previously proposed by Gov. Tim Walz and the Clean Water Council, a 17-member advisory group that makes biennial recommendations on how to spend Clean Water Fund dollars.

The bill, as amended, was laid on the table Thursday by the House Environment and Natural Resources Finance and Policy Committee to be discussed Friday. Its companion, SF1342, is sponsored by Sen. Kari Dziedzic (DFL-Mpls) and awaits action by the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Policy and Legacy Finance Committee.

Every two years, the Legislature typically allocates tens of millions of Clean Water Fund dollars for dozens of groundwater, surface water and drinking water projects throughout Minnesota.

Lawmakers are generally guided by the Clean Water Council, which built its current recommendations on a new strategic plan.

For the upcoming biennium, the council has recommended funding over 60 projects and initiatives, the largest of which is $43.6 million for grants to watersheds with approved comprehensive watershed plans.

Other large appropriations include $22.3 million for surface and drinking water protection and restoration, $15.9 million for point-source implementation grants and $14.4 million for river and lake monitoring and assessment.

The bill would allow counties with soil and water conservation districts to impose a $25 per-transaction fee on the recording or registration of mortgages and deeds, a provision county recorders oppose.

It would also hold drinking water to a higher standard when it comes to the chemical perfluorooctane sulfonate, which the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says could have adverse health effects.

That provision is opposed by the Minnesota chapter of the National Waste and Recycling Association, which says no other states have the proposed standard.

In a letter, the Nature Conservancy urged House members to allow the Clean Water Council to make its own recommendations for the additional $36.6 million.

The Clean Water Fund is supported by the 2008 Legacy Amendment that increased the state sales tax by three-eighths of 1 percent between July 1, 2009, and 2034.

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