Minnesota communities need funds for water infrastructure projects, leaders say

The projects could be supported through a bill going through the Legislature. The projects are to address extreme weather events due to climate change.

Road washed out
In 2009, Wadena County State Aid Highway 30 near Staples washed out and buckled because of flood waters. The highway was closed until the county could make repairs. Pioneer Journal file photo

There’s nothing like a rainy day to discuss the costs and needed changes to address extreme weather events, as Minnesota leaders explained in a virtual press conference on March 24.

The discussion follows a $2.9 million bill introduced in the House and Senate earlier this month. A portion of funds would be available in 2022 and 2023 for grants with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency for climate resiliency planning. The community projects could include assessing local infrastructure risks, developing community climate plans and predesign work for improving and managing storm and wastewater infrastructure, as MPCA commissioner Laura Bishop said.

The hope is for providing preventative measures, where communities are able to plan for and receive funding for water infrastructure projects before a destructive weather event. For small communities, the cost of these projects is prohibitive, as well as difficult when asking taxpayers to pay for planning, as Staples mayor Chris Etzler shared. For example, a $20,000 plan would represent 2% of the city’s tax levy.

“Effective planning really it can break that cycle of that damage, the repair, the reconstruction, that damage again and then the reconstruction,” Etzler said. “With effective planning, we just become more proactive instead of being reactionary.”

He said Staples is built on a swamp with infrastructure pieces from the 1930-40s still in place. One of the impacted areas is near the high school where classrooms have previously flooded. Portions of the neighborhood have also easily flooded, and now have a temporary fix.


“Our water issues that we have, it can be great, and we need that infrastructure within our community,” Etzler said. Some of the issues have been helped by highway reconstruction. They are also in the process of planning for a new wastewater treatment plant .

Watch the full conference:

Besides cities, homeowners can avoid large costs from weather events by investing in hail resilient shingles and a battery back-up for sub pumps, as Insurance Federation of Minnesota vice president of public affairs Mark Kulda recommended.

The partnerships are what leaders see as a key part of the benefits of the bill, such as local leaders with engineers who know the newest technology, as Region 5 Development Commission executive director Cheryal Hills noted.

With the possible grants, counties, cities, townships and tribal nations would be eligible to submit projects. While the process for administering the grants isn’t finalized, the bill would support at least 15 projects a year, as MPCA assistant commissioner for water policy and agriculture Katrina Kessler said. Assessment and planning costs are between $20,000 to $200,000.

“It’s really to understand what are all of the possibilities, what has the greatest economic impact for the leveraged dollars that we’re using in terms of taxpayer dollars that have the highest environmental benefit,” Hills said. “That’s why this planning is important, it’s not easy.”

"“We’re seeing more extreme weather, we’re seeing more storms, stronger storms, more severe storms, larger storm outbreaks, and so it’s costing Minnesota consumers money.”."

— Mark Kulda


Across Minnesota, Bishop said the trends due to climate change are warmer and wetter weather as well as more frequent and intense ‘mega rain’ events. The events are four times more likely than one generation ago, Bishop noted.

The state saw a shift from weather stability in 1998 with three significant storm outbreaks that cost $1.5 billion in insured losses , as Kulda said. Since then, 26 of these $1 billion losses have occurred.

“Things changed dramatically and pretty suddenly,” Kulda said. “We’re seeing more extreme weather, we’re seeing more storms, stronger storms, more severe storms, larger storm outbreaks, and so it’s costing Minnesota consumers money.”

A weather event the area is all too familiar with are tornadoes, including the 2010 tornado in Wadena and Almora. That year in Minnesota, there were 144 recorded tornadoes —the most in the United States, according to Kulda. In 2015, the Staples softball complex was destroyed by a small tornado.

Senator Jennifer McEwen, D-Duluth, called climate change an “existential crisis” that has been too long avoided. Since planning did not happen 20 years ago, the need is urgent as climate change affects the economy, health and environment, McEwen said.

Leaders hope planning would help with the costs. For every $1 invested in resilient infrastructure, there is a $6 benefit of preventing losses for communities , according to FEMA.

“We can help Minnesota’s communities adapt to our changing climate and more extreme weather by supporting their efforts to prepare, plan and invest in crucial water infrastructure improvements,” Bishop said.

More information

Rebecca Mitchell started as a Digital Content Producer for the Post Bulletin in August 2022. She specializes in feature reporting as well as enhancing online articles. Readers can reach Rebecca at 507-285-7681 or
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