The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency is asking the state legislature for $2.9 million in funding over the next two years to help cities and other local governments develop infrastructure plans for the ongoing effects of climate change.
MPCA Commissioner Laura Bishop met with Southeast Minnesota lawmakers and mayors Tuesday morning in a virtual meeting to discuss what those cities need to face a changing climate.
To be clear, that’s $2.9 million to study infrastructure needs and design ways to better manage stormwater. To actually mitigate damage to homes and businesses, prevent sewage from inundating lakes and rivers, and prevent costly infrastructure repairs, cities will likely need billions of dollars in funds.
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Funding for project design, engineering and planning will help small towns, said Lanesboro Mayor Jason Resseman.
He said city leaders are often hesitant to spend the upfront costs when funding for major projects isn’t always guaranteed.
Zumbro River dredging begins Work begins on the Zumbro River Sediment Removal Project near the Mayo Civic Center Monday in downtown Rochester. The first phase of the project will include dredging of sediments from the Zumbro River from the Broadway Bridge near Soldiers Field to near the Mayo Civic Center, according to a Rochester Public Works project summary. Trucks hauling sediment will impact vehicle traffic along 3rd Avenue Southeast and 4th Street Southeast near the Government Center, according to the summary.
Climate change has made Minnesota warmer and wetter. More frequent heavy rain events fall on the state, especially in Southeast Minnesota.
“Mega rainfall” events are happening more frequently. Mega rainfalls are defined by the state climatologist office as deluges of 6 inches of rain covering more than 1,000 square miles, with the core rain event topping 8 inches.
“Our representatives in cities, counties and towns know this better than anybody, because they see it, especially in Southern Minnesota, they’re seeing these extreme events,” Bishop said.
In addition to damage to homes, businesses and infrastructure, heavier and more frequent rainfalls are inundating city wastewater treatment plants, causing them to release untreated wastewater and sewage into rivers, streams and lakes. Such releases have happened 71 times in Southeast Minnesota over the past two years, according to MPCA reports.
Katrina Kessler, MPCA assistant commissioner for Water Policy and Agriculture, said the agency has identified more than 980 water treatment infrastructure projects that need to be upgraded, at an estimated cost of $4 billion.
Stormwater and city infrastructure needs could equal that, she added.
Mark Kulda, vice president of public affairs for the Insurance Federation of Minnesota, spoke about the increased insurance costs Minnesotans have already incurred from more frequent and more severe storms.
Homeowners insurance has gone up about 366% in Minnesota since 1998, he added.
Rochester Mayor Kim Norton noted that the flood mitigation project along the Zumbro River has provided protection for much of the city. However, heavy rains in 2019 washed out area trails and paths, and put water levels within 6 inches of an emergency spillway.
Heavy rains have already helped fill in the Zumbro River in downtown Rochester with sediment, despite dredging work done there in 2019 at a cost of nearly $2 million.
“This makes us more vulnerable to continued damage,” she said.
The proposed $2.9 million in planning funding was included in Gov. Tim Walz’s proposed budget, and will be considered by the state legislature for funding.
John Molseed is a tree-hugging Minnesota transplant making his way through his state parks passport. This column is a space for stories of people doing their part (and more) to keep Minnesota green. Send questions, comments and suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org.