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Supplemental budget request aims to address nitrate-contaminated drinking water

More than 9,000 people in southeastern Minnesota are at risk of consuming nitrate-contaminated private well water. They could receive help under a windfall recently realized by the Clean Water, Land, and Legacy Amendment sales and use tax.

The Clean Water Fund is one recipient of the money generated by that 2008 voter-approved initiative. The latest revenue estimates show the fund has $25.4 million more than forecast.

Therefore, the Clean Water Council is proposing a 14-item supplemental budget request for this amount.

The House Legacy Finance Committee, which heard the request Wednesday, may consider it as part of larger legislation later this month.

In the request is $2.79 million for responding to a public health emergency declared by the Environmental Protection Agency. Under its emergency powers, the federal agency issued a public health notice in November 2023 to the state departments of health and agriculture and the Pollution Control Agency to safeguard public health due to excessive nitrates in private wells in Dodge, Fillmore, Goodhue, Houston, Mower, Olmstead, Wabasha, and Winona counties.

“If the nitrates in your private well are over the safe drinking limit, then there’s a 95% chance that a pesticide is present over the safe drinking limit,” said Winona County Commissioner Chris Meyer.

Other requests include:

  • $4.43 million for working land and floodplain easements;
  • $4 million to protect critical shoreland easements;
  • $3.4 million for a loan program to further agricultural best practices;
  • $2 million to help tribal governments and nonprofit organizations address hyper-local watershed challenges;
  • $1 million in chloride reduction grants; and
  • $90,000 to monitor and assess fish contamination.

The Nature Conservancy in Minnesota, Friends of the Mississippi River, Freshwater, Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, Minnesota Well Owners Association, Winona Clean Water Coalition, and Will Dilg Chapter of the Izaak Walton League submitted letters of support.

The 2008 Clean Water, Land, and Legacy Amendment allowed a sales and use tax increase of 0.375%. Proceeds are distributed as follows: 33%, Clean Water Fund; 33%, Outdoor Heritage Fund; 19.75%, Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund; and 14.25%, Parks and Trails Fund.

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