MPCA, northern Minnesota leaders appeal for investment to help communities prepare for extreme weather

Contact: Mary Robinson, 651-757-2525

Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) Commissioner Laura Bishop, area lawmakers, local mayors, and representatives from the insurance industry and regional development commission today made a public appeal to the Legislature to pass a $2.9 million funding proposal that would help communities prepare for extreme rain events and other climate change impacts.

map showing locations in northeastern Minnesota where heavy rainfalls contirbuted to wastewater overflows in 2019-2020Much of Minnesota’s water infrastructure — including stormwater systems, sewers, and wastewater treatment plants — was designed for the climate of the past. Increasingly wet weather and more frequent extreme rain events overburden these systems and contribute to a statewide average of 150 wastewater overflows each year, including 24 incidents of partially treated wastewater being released in northeastern Minnesota in just the last two years.

“In too many cases, our aging and inadequate water infrastructure can’t handle the more extreme weather we see today, causing local streets to flood, sewer systems to back up into homes and businesses, and inflicting millions of dollars in damages to public and private property,” said MPCA Commissioner Laura Bishop.

“Mega-rain” events, like the ones Duluth, Brainerd, and surrounding regions experienced in 2012 and 2016 are four times more likely than they were a generation ago. Minnesota now ranks second in the country for extreme weather events, only behind California, and Minnesotans have seen a 366% increase in homeowner insurance rates since 1998.

Cities like Duluth that have experienced intense rains and flooding have a firsthand understanding of the risks of more extreme weather and the high price tag of reactive infrastructure repairs,” added Mayor Emily Larson. “Grant funding like this is needed to help communities find local solutions for improving water infrastructure, mitigating risks, and preventing worse damage in years to come.”

The proposed funding would support local community efforts to plan and prepare for extreme weather by providing grants to counties, cities, townships, and tribal governments for assessing risks and vulnerabilities, developing plans to increase resilience, and arming communities with the necessary planning and pre-design work needed to secure future funding for stormwater and wastewater infrastructure projects.

Data from the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) shows that for every $1 of investment in resilient infrastructure, $6 of benefit accrue to communities from avoided loss due to extreme precipitation, flooding and other disasters. With this funding, the MPCA could assist up to 15 communities each year — but the demand is even higher. This proposal represents a starting point, and one part of a larger framework of investments needed to help Minnesota grow jobs and help communities adapt and prepare for extreme weather and build climate resiliency. Learn more about this proposal on the MPCA’s website: Preparing communities for our changing climate.

Additional support for $2.9 million funding request

Mark Kulda, vice president of public affairs, Insurance Federation of Minnesota
“Minnesota’s changing weather patterns have become a serious financial concern. Since 1998, the state has suffered larger, stronger and more frequent severe weather outbreaks. This is causing significant pressure on homeowner, auto and commercial insurance premiums.”

Sarah Hannigan, general manager, Whole Foods Co-op in Duluth
“During the 2012 flood, an antiquated culvert under the Whole Foods Co-op’s Hillside store in Duluth failed, washing a 25-foot retaining wall and 30 percent of our parking lot downstream, and disrupting our operations for more than six months. Updates to water infrastructure in Minnesota are critical and will help avoid disruptions to businesses and essential services during extreme weather events.”

Cheryal Hills, executive director, Region Five Development Commission
“Together, MPCA and local planning organizations like ours can help smaller, rural towns and under-resourced communities advance cost-effective, locally-tailored solutions to prepare for our changing climate that leverage state support with federal infrastructure investments. Central Minnesota cannot afford to wait until after a disaster to act.”