Watered-Down Promise

The Governor's all for cleaning up Minnesota's lakes and rivers, provided it can be done for free

Time is of the essence because of the enormity of the state's pollution problems. So far, the MPCA has tested just 8 percent of Minnesota's rivers and 14 percent of the lakes. What it's found has not been encouraging: Roughly 40 percent of those waterways have been deemed "impaired." There are now approximately 2,000 bodies of water that have been found to have unsatisfactory levels of pollutants, including mercury and phosphorus. If the problems are not rectified, local municipalities could eventually find themselves hamstrung by prohibitions on adding further pollutants to the waters. New factories, or even lakefront hotels, would be prevented from operating until the polluted waterway was cleaned up. "It's a very real economic hammer that's hanging over our heads," says the League of Cities' Johnson.

In addition, the absence of state money could eventually force local municipalities and businesses to cover the burden of meeting cleanup measures mandated under the Clean Water Act. "Private businesses, private landowners, and especially local units of government will be paying for all of this, which means your taxes will be going up to do it," Johnson argues. In other states, such as Florida and South Carolina, failure to provide state funding for restoring polluted waterways has resulted in costly lawsuits.

Members of the G-16 coalition are hoping that the state will get its act together before such action is taken. But few are anxious to return to the drawing board to try to come up with a new funding proposal that would meet with the governor's approval. "I feel like we already did our time and we came up with ideas," says Petersen. "I don't know what new ideas we're going to come up with."

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