Water Policy Discussion Continues at Capitol

Several environmental issues related to water will be decided in the final weeks of the session.
(Published Apr 14, 2014)

As expected, the Legislature has spent a significant amount of time discussing a wide range of water-related issues this year. Proposals to change either statewide or metro area utility rates, surcharges, or financial obligations related to public water systems were looked at early in the session, but have since been set aside. There are, however, several water policy and permit fee provisions that are still advancing.

Waiving of certain fees
The omnibus supplemental budget appropriation bills (HF 3172) for both the House (second engrossment) and Senate (second unofficial engrossment) contain language developed by the League and the Minnesota Association of Watershed Districts to require that the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) waive water appropriation permit fees for projects that cause stormwater to be used instead of discharged, and for projects where a public entity removes water to treat it for a quality issue and returns it to its source without any other use.

Water commission
The Senate supplemental budget includes funding for the re-establishment of a Legislative Water Commission, which the League has supported. Since the House passed separate legislation to do that last session, it has a strong likelihood of being in the final supplemental budget deal, even though it is not in the House bill at this time. The Legislative Water Commission would be a group of House and Senate members that would hold interim hearings to develop a better legislative understanding of complex water issues and allow for more thorough testimony and discussion of those issues.

Stronger enforcement and penalties
The Senate bill also includes new authority for DNR to investigate and act on water appropriations violations. Penalties for failing to report required water use data in a timely and accurate manner are increased, and the department is given the ability to use an administrative penalty process if water is being used without an appropriation permit.

Groundwater management areas
Additionally, there is policy language requested by cities that was added as an amendment on the House floor to the House omnibus environment and natural resources policy bill (HF 2733, Rep. David Dill, DFL-Cook). The language addresses how the DNR develops groundwater area management plans. It also creates requirements that permitted water users be a majority of the members of advisory groups established to work with the DNR as they develop these plans.

The amendment was offered by Rep. Linda Runbeck (R-Circle Pines), who worked with the League and Rep. Peter Fischer (DFL-Maplewood) to draft it. The amendment was passed on a vote of 96-30. The League will continue to work with House and Senate members to have a version of this language included in the final environment policy bill this session.

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