New York, Minnesota Propose Millions in Water Infrastructure Upgrades

Among the proposals highlighted by New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo last week was $250 million for drinking water and wastewater infrastructure projects across the state. Also last week, Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton unveiled a plan to spend $220 million to modernize the state’s aging water system, the most ambitious effort in recent history to begin fixing pipes and plants that process the state’s sewage and drinking water.

In New York, Cuomo’s office said the funding will add $100 million to the Water Infrastructure Improvement Act of 2015.

Carrie M. Tuttle, director of engineering for the Development Authority of the North Country, said that there were a number of local projects, in places like Clayton, Potsdam, Brasher and Stockholm, that were unsuccessfully submitted for state funding last fall. With additional funding, she said she was hopeful the projects could move forward.

“There’s definitely a large need in the north country,” Tuttle said. “There are a lot of projects on the list that need funding.”

Ms. Tuttle said projects like water infrastructure are critical because of their health and business development impacts.

The governor’s office said the money will be allocated in 2016 and 2017 by the state Environmental Facilities Corp., Department of Health and Department of Environmental Conservation.

Lewis County Manager Liz Swearingin said that while she needed to discuss specific projects in the county with her staff, “There will not be any lack of ideas here.”

Scott A. Gray, chairman of the Jefferson County Board of Legislators, said that the money could be helpful in places like Alexandria Bay and Orleans.

In Minnesota, Gov. Dayton unveiled a plan that includes $167 million to help cities many of them small, outstate communities that can’t afford to upgrade water systems needed to clean farm and other pollutants from their water without doubling residents’ water bills.

“Minnesota has long been known for the abundance and quality of its water,” Dayton said at a news conference. “It’s no longer something we can take for granted.”

The money would only begin to address the estimated $4.2 billion needed in the near future to update the state’s water systems, with still more required in coming years – 83 percent of the sewers in the Twin Cities were built more than 50 years ago, for instance.

Dayton’s water plan is part of a broader two-year borrowing package he will present Friday, expected to top $1 billion. His plan will need approval from a divided Legislature, with members who will have their own local bonding priorities in a year in which all 201 legislative seats are up for election.

State Rep. Chris Swedzinski, R-Ghent, vice chairman of the Capital Investment Committee in the Republican-controlled House, released a statement noting the importance and expense of building, operating, maintaining and upgrading water systems.

Sen. LeRoy Stumpf, DFL-Plummer, who chairs the Senate’s Capitol Investment Committee, said he is encouraged by Dayton’s proposal. He said that when his committee toured the state last year, members heard repeatedly about water and especially aging wastewater and drinking water infrastructure.

Dayton, who will also host a water quality summit in February, has made clean water a defining issue since last year, when he won passage of a complex measure at the Legislature that mandated buffers around waterways to protect them from pollution, a law that continues to cause consternation among some farmers.

The proposed water system spending, some of which would help the state and cities leverage additional federal money, is three or four times the amount for water quality in any previous bonding bill, state officials said.

Still, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency released a report noting that local governments identified more than 1,350 wastewater infrastructure projects, costing $4.2 billion, more than half of that outstate. Over the longer term, the federal Environmental Protection Agency has estimated Minnesota will need to spend $11 billion to maintain and upgrade its water systems during the next 20 years.

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