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Guest Opinion: Clean water is worth the price

Our modern water infrastructure is a miracle that most of us barely even think about. How many times every day do we turn on a faucet, use the water for a hundred different reasons, spill gallons down the drain and never give it a second thought?...

Our modern water infrastructure is a miracle that most of us barely even think about.

How many times every day do we turn on a faucet, use the water for a hundred different reasons, spill gallons down the drain and never give it a second thought? We take for granted the drinking water, wastewater, and stormwater infrastructure built up over the last 150 years and we overlook the hard work and public investment that was necessary to put it in place.

Governor Dayton's recent proposal to invest in water infrastructure around Minnesota is a timely reality check. His proposal will help keep our faucets and fixtures flowing with safe, clean water by opening up another important faucet-the funding to build and upgrade our water systems! It also benefits the future of our water resources-our iconic lakes and streams-a foundation for Minnesota's tourism economy and the spirit of our "land of 10,000 lakes" motto.

While the amazing story of clean, safe drinking water and wastewater treatment is an American success story, it comes at a price. Last fall we held listening sessions on the topic around the state. Hundreds of mayors, elected officials, and others representing more than 80 Minnesota communities told us of the challenges presented by their aging water infrastructure, and the increasing difficulties they face meeting water quality standards and expectations. They also spoke of the burden placed on small-town tax bases as communities struggle to provide clean water with aging systems. We heard loud and clear that the price of upkeep on this infrastructure is steep for many smaller communities. Like all of us, they want and value clean water, but their message was, they need help and flexibility to reach that goal. The recent news out of Flint, Mich., where high lead levels in drinking water coming from an old water infrastructure, reinforces what we heard across Minnesota about the urgency of properly maintaining and upgrading our water systems. In many places they are up against aging water systems that includes wooden pipes and depression era plumbing, we can do better.

Maintaining water infrastructure is not cheap for the Metro area and other larger Minnesota cities either, but thanks to larger populations and economies of scale, the cost is more manageable. When you're a city of a few thousand people or smaller, the costs of maintaining and upgrading water infrastructure can become a daunting challenge. In many of these towns a sizable group of residents are seniors living on fixed incomes which complicates the costs of upgrading or modernizing the water infrastructure. The needed improvements can't be borne through increased water rates alone. In the last century, the federal government paid for most if not all of the construction of new water infrastructure-that's not happening today.

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Properly managing wastewater, stormwater, and drinking water supplies protects our public health and safety. It's also critical for ensuring the economic vitality and future competitiveness of communities statewide. Access to a reliable, clean, reasonably-priced water supply along with cost-effective wastewater treatment is a critical factor in where a business locates.

It's estimated that there is roughly $11 billion in water infrastructure need over the next 20 years around Minnesota. Governor Dayton's proposal is a healthy down payment toward meeting that need. Future governors and legislatures will have to rally to make similar investments over the next two decades. We believe they can and should make these investments because, although many of us take it for granted, abundant, clean water is worth the price.

John Linc Stine, is commissioner of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency

Ed Ehlinger is commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Health

Jeff Freeman is executive director of the Public Facilities Authority

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