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Water key part of outdoors measure

Minnesota Sen. Tony Lourey of Kerrick shows Sen. Terri Bonoff of Minnetonka part of a bill funding environment, agriculture and other programs Wednesday, April 17, 2013. (Forum News Service photo by Don Davis)

ST. PAUL -- Water plays a critical role in economic development and environmental concerns, but Minnesota lawmakers do not agree on how potential water shortages should be addressed.

A bill the full House plans to debate today concentrates on Minnesota’s dwindling aquifer.

“We do have an emphasis on making sure there is good, healthy drinking water for our children and grandchildren,” said Rep. Jean Wagenius, chairwoman of the House Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture Finance Committee.

While many of the state’s largest cities draw water from rivers, most other communities’ drinking water comes from the underground aquifer, which is being drained.

Wagenius, DFL-Minneapolis, uses a recent Litchfield situation to illustrate her argument for change.

A farmer obtained a Health Department permit to install a well for irrigating his fields. Once it was in place, Litchfield officials learned that the well was within two miles of its well field, violating a state requirement that the well should be two miles away.

Tweaks are needed in how the state allows wells, Wagenius said, so aquifers are not overused. She would require the Department of Natural Resources to issue permits before wells are drilled. The DNR is responsible for water quantity while the Health Department is responsible for quality.

The Wagenius bill, expected to undergo a lengthy debate, would increase water fees assessed on large users. Household wells are not charged the fee.

Rep. Dan Fabian, R-Roseau, will fight the Wagenius bill. He said that instead of increasing fees across the state and requiring extensive monitoring of water levels, as Wagenius wants, the state should focus on places where there are problems, such as water shortages in southwestern Minnesota and levels falling at White Bear Lake in the Twin Cities.

Fabian said Wagenius’ bill goes too far.

The chairwoman said the state would receive more than $6 million more a year from new water fees.

The Senate bill does not increase fees, said Sen. David Tomassoni, DFL-Chisholm. “A signal is being sent that we are not increasing fees.”

Sen. David Tomassoni, DFL-Chisholm

Also in her bill, Wagenius has included provisions that would give a higher priority to funding sewage systems that recycle water. As it is, she said, too much water ends up in the Mississippi River and heads south of the Minnesota.

The water provisions are included in the Wagenius bill that also funds agriculture and other outdoors programs.

The Tomassoni bill contains many of the same provisions, but also wraps in issues dealing with economic development and other issues. It is expected to go in front of the full Senate on Friday.

Provisions in one or both bills include:

  • A snowmobiler who never uses a trail could register at a reduced fee.
  • Military personnel and families could receive free state park admission.
  • State should develop model silica sand mining ordinances that local governments could use.
  • Solar power equipment made in Minnesota could receive a state incentive.
  • Increase funding for the state Film and TV Board in an effort to attract more movies and television show productions and boost funds for Explore Minnesota tourism.
  • Allow other kinds of plant-based fuel to be called ethanol, but corn must be part of ethanol through 2025.
  • Establish recycling requirements for paint and carpet.
Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.