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Wasting Away: Upgrading Minnesota’s Aging Wastewater Infrastructure

August 21, 2012 By Jeremy Dennison, Graduate Research Fellow

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At more than 50 years old in some Greater Minnesota communities, the state’s wastewater infrastructure is aging to the breaking point, with replacement or upgrade carrying a hefty price tag.

While the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) has an established mechanism to connect these communities with low-interest financing and grants, the state’s smallest towns and municipalities lack the population and economies of scale to afford necessary infrastructure upgrades.

Widespread state funding cuts and the economic downturn have had some local officials cutting into reserve and capital accounts to prevent slashing day-to-day services, pushing these upgrades out of financial reach. Communities that can put off making such investments will. Others will turn to raising user fees and property taxes, a more regressive revenue stream, to get the jobs done.



This report, Wasting Away, is recommending that the state use its bonding capacity to fund projects for the smallest communities with the greatest infrastructural needs. The MPCA’s Project Priority List (PPL) evaluates which projects are of greatest environmental need. More than 300 projects, including more than a dozen in the St. Peter-Mankato area are listed. Projects range from upgrading waste and storm water treatment facilities to connecting towns that have long been unsewered.

Now is an excellent time to proactively upgrade and replace aging systems before they become public health hazards. With interest rates at all-time lows, competitive bidding from construction firms, high unemployment in the construction sector and excess bonding capacity (as of the February 2012 state economic forecast), there is no excuse wait for the systems to break down.

Underground infrastructure projects rarely attract public interest or enthusiasm the same way shinier, more visible road, bridge and transit construction developments would. People rarely think about a well-functioning wastewater system until something goes wrong. By then, it’s too late.

2012 Project Priority List

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  • Gregory Kapphahn says:

    August 21, 2012 at 7:45 am

    This is all a result of the Republican push, since the days of Ronnie Raygun, to make government out to be the enemy of the population. 

    Instead of the prosperous, efficient economy we were promised, an economy in which those who worked hard and played by the rules were rewarded,...

    the tax cuts which were supposed to free up the economic energies of the “job creators” have not gotten us even a single job.

    But they have gotten us an economy in which local governments across Minnesota are no longer able to provide basic law enforcement sufficient to prevent day-to-day petty crimes,...

    schools no longer have the resources needed to ensure a quality education for as many students as possible,...

    major bridges fall into the rivers they cross,...

    and the water and sewer lines beneath our streets are crumbling to dust while the government agencies responsible for their maintenance lack the resources to hire sufficient staff to monitor those underground lines, perform needed maintenance, or accomplish timely replacement.

    Meanwhile our ACTUAL economic enemies: those who have rearranged the economy to allow themselves to absorb into their already massively overstuffed pockets more of the proceeds of our national economy than ever before.

    They DO NOT use their money to create or support innovative new enterprises and the jobs which would result (too risky for their sniveling hides),...

    but just use it as gambling chips seeking “the big score” in the Wall Street, hedge fund, and private equity fund casinos,...

    doing NO good for anyone else (except those handling their risky “sure thing” bets) and, due to the risky nature of those bets,...

    and the way those handling their bets are, once again, all lying to their investors and each other about the value of what they’re offering as “investments” is, threatening, more and more, to crash the international economy again, when everyone involved discovers, as they did in 2008, that everyone ELSE is lying, too.

    Now the “Citizens United” Supreme Court decision is allowing a small number of men who have gained their wealth in ways that have impoverished large numbers of their fellow citizens to seek to buy an election by overwhelming those who have not kneeled in fealty to them with massive quantities of negative adds,...

    thereby putting themselves in a position to lock the current system in place, a system by which the rest of us are locked OUT of access to long life, economic liberty, and the pursuit of personal, societal, and economic happiness, because we no longer have any influence over the majority of the politicians in our national, state, and local governments.

    Unless and until we get these big money donors out of politics, we are in danger of giving up our democracy and replacing it with a corporate oligarchy in which regular folks, whatever their political persuasion, are reduced to economic serfdom if not outright slavery.

    It may already be too late.

  • Mike Downing says:

    August 21, 2012 at 9:28 am

    Let’s put a waste water treatment plant in and refill White Bear Lake!

  • Reuben says:

    August 21, 2012 at 9:49 am

    I’m a little skeptical when I read reports that suggest “upgrades” are “necessary”. Many of the smallest towns are economically unproductive, and probably always will be. Is it really a good idea to “upgrade” systems for economically unproductive places that probably can’t afford to maintain the “upgraded” system? Perhaps, in some cases, “downgrading” is the solution?