What exactly is “water infrastructure?”
Water infrastructure consists of the treatment facilities, wells, pipes, drains and natural landscapes that provide the water we drink, dispose of or divert the water we use and protect our communities from flooding. It includes old technology, like water mains and ditches that have been in the ground for decades, and new processes, like reverse osmosis water purification systems. Some of this infrastructure in Minnesota is state of the art, while some of it is decades old, which can lead to problems like leaky pipes that waste water, inefficient drainage systems that lead to water pollution or – worse – contaminated drinking water.
How does outdated water infrastructure hurt people’s health?
On the drinking water side, aging wells and treatment facilities can’t always keep contaminants out of community drinking water, leaving people – especially children – vulnerable to serious health conditions. And the very pipes that carry water in older communities like St. Paul and Duluth can leach toxic lead into people’s homes, causing sickness and developmental disorders.
Wastewater treatment that doesn’t keep contaminants out of the groundwater adds to the danger. Toxic substances, bacteria and even viruses can seep into the aquifers where we get our water, making its treatment even more difficult.
Faulty stormwater infrastructure causes its own dangers. When rain and snowmelt cause rivers to overflow, an up-to-date drainage system can mean the difference between successful diversion of the water and a flood that damages homes and businesses.
Beyond the direct impact on individual residents, all of those problems add up in hospital visits, insurance costs and expensive efforts to fix the symptoms of the underlying problem that we all wind up paying for in one form or another.
Why should this be a priority now?
First, Minnesotans can’t wait around for this to happen. Like much of the United States, we have neglected investing in our water infrastructure for too long, and further delay will lead only to costlier repairs. And more important, unsafe water is hurting our health right now. Our communities need this problem to be treated like a priority.
Bonding for water infrastructure provides a wide array of economic benefits. It supports jobs, takes a significant strain off local budgets and is inexpensive in both the short and long run.
More specifically, the economic impact of investing $300 million in Minnesota’s water infrastructure would exceed $1.8 billion statewide – a huge step toward restrating the state’s COVID-19-ravaged economy. In all, the projects that we are endorsing would create about 7,200 jobs in Minnesota’s rural, suburban and urban communities.
How do we pay for it?
Minnesota can issue what are known as general obligation bonds to pay for these projects. Essentially, the state borrows money at extremely low interest rates and pays off its debt over the course of years, rather than spending a lump sum of its budget immediately. This is a standard best practice for state governments.
We’re asking for at least $300 million of that bonding to go to water infrastructure and cleanup efforts. It doesn’t cover all water system needs across the state, but it’s a major step in the right direction, and it will support numerous jobs across the state. It will also trigger significant matching funds from the federal government in many cases, stretching our investment even further.