Wasting Away: Upgrading Minnesota’s Aging Wastewater Infrastructure
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.