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Walz signs omnibus environment bill

ST. PAUL — Gov. Tim Walz signed the Omnibus Environment and Natural Resources Finance and Policy bill into law June 29.

The final bill with a July 1, 2021 starting date, includes establishment of a new program to provide landowners with financial support to hold water back on the landscape.

The Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources (BWSR) will receive $1 million in Fiscal Year 2021 and 2022 to fund the development and demonstration of a new water storage program starting with the Minnesota River Watershed.

There is also money in the bill for chronic wasting disease, aquatic invasive species, the emerald ash borer, and PFAs (per- and polyflouroalkyl) toxic, man-made substances.

“Extensive study and science in the Minnesota River Basin over the past 30 years brought us to this point in time,” said Minnesota River Congress Coordinator and Coalition for a Clean Minnesota River Executive Director Scott Sparlin of New Ulm.

“Many landowners who have spent their lives in the basin have intuitively known that temporarily and permanently holding water to stabilize flows would create a better system on all fronts,” said Sparlin. “This is a win for everyone and is a big first step to creating a comprehensive program that will ultimately need national assistance.”

Creating the program began in the grass roots and was the culmination of more than 25 basin-wide meetings held over three years beginning in late 2016.

Meetings with Rep. Paul Torkelson, R-Hanska; and former Rep. Jeff Brand, D-St. Peter, led to introduction in the prior legislative session, then the COVID-19 pandemic stopped it in its tracks.

The legislation was taken up this session by a number of legislators including Sen. Nick Frentz, D-Mankato.

Supporting partners included the Izaak Walton League Upper Mississippi River Initiative Minnesota River Team. and Minnesota River Congress participants.

The $1.66 billion bill includes $367.08 million in General Fund spending. General fund increases include:

• $25.77 million for the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), including a $3.98 million operating adjustment, $2.5 million for accelerated tree planting to capture carbon, and a $2 million state park funding increase;

• $5.04 million for BWSR including $2 million for water quality and storage practices to mitigate climate change impacts and $1.4 million for septic replacement grants;

• $3.23 million for the Pollution Control Agency, including nearly $2 million in local government water infrastructure grants;

• $1.27 million to Explore Minnesota Tourism, of which $1 million would be for community event grants.

The bill would not increase the cost of park permits, hunting or fishing fees or registration fees on boats, kayaks, canoes, or paddle-boards.

Funding includes salary increases and supplemental payments for conservation officers.

Under the bill, the DNR and Board of Animal Health would possess concurrent authority to regulate farmed, white-tailed deer, under certain law sections regarding farmed deer, and the DNR may inspect white-tailed deer.

Farmed deer have been a prominent source of chronic wasting disease, which is always fatal and can survive for years in the environment. The agreement prohibits importation of all deer carcasses, not just hunter-harvested ones.

Fritz Busch can be emailed at fbusch@nujournal.com.

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