Water fees dropped from environment budget bill

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(Rep. Jean Wagenius talks with Rep. Rick Hansen on the House floor. MPR Photo/Tom Scheck)

A plan that would have increased water fees to pay for increased monitoring of the state’s groundwater is off the table.

The conference committee on the environment and ag budget bill scrapped the water fees, but the monitoring will be done with money from the state’s general fund.

Sen. David Tomassoni, DFL-Chisholm, said the committee determined that the proposed water fees in the House version of the bill would have been a hardship on the public.

“It was going to be a big cost to our farmers and businesses and even to our homeowners. We decided we were better off not doing the water fees,” Tomassoni said. “The program is going to be in and it will get funded at a certain level.”

The plan would also require companies looking to mine frac sand in Minnesota to get approval from the DNR.

Rep. Jean Wagenius, DFL-Minneapolis, says the permit process will ensure that the push to mine the sand doesn’t hurt the environment.

“In this area, the sources of water are often underground and are hard to track,” Wagenius said. “In order to get a permit, you’re going to have to figure out whether you’re going to disturb somebody’s private well. Are you going to disturb a municipal system or are you going to disturb a trout stream? If you are, the commissioner has the authority to say no.”

Wagenius also said there is funding in the bill to protect native pollinators like bees. She said it’s the first time a state has ensured that bee colonies and other native pollinators are protected. There are concerns that bee colonies are collapsing around the world.

The House and Senate are expected to vote on the budget bill later today.