A Guide to Drinking Water Issues for Candidates for Public Office

Congratulations! You have made the decision to run for elected office.  Whatever the outcome of your election, your community is grateful that you made the decision to get involved to make your community better.

While approximately 71 percent of the Earth’s surface is water, only 3 percent is suitable for drinking. Everyone needs safe and affordable drinking water.  There are many decisions made by elected officials that affect delivery of water and whether it is safe and affordable.  There are many local, state and federal policies, rules, funding sources and agencies that govern water quality in Minnesota. If elected, your office might provide you the opportunity to voice your thoughts, concerns, and goals for clean water and safe and affordable drinking water.

As an elected official, you might have your own thoughts or questions about meeting Minnesota’s clean water goals.  Clean Water Action is providing the following guide for drinking water issues that will be debated this summer and fall leading up to the election in November. If elected, we would like to work with you to ensure we have clean water in Minnesota and accomplish many of the solutions provided below. 

Good luck in your election! Thank you for your interest and wanting to make clean water and safe and affordable drinking water a priority in your race for elected office.

For Clean Water,

Deanna White

State Director

Clean Water Action Minnesota

 

 

Water infrastructure:  EPA estimates that Minnesota must invest approximately $7.4 billion over the next 20 years to upgrade community public drinking water systems to comply with the Safe Drinking Water Act. An estimated $1 trillion is necessary nationwide to repair, replace, and expand drinking water distribution systems over the next 25 years. Lower income, communities of color, and underserved communities withstand the worst of our infrastructure problems because some of these communities may lack the tax base or ratepayers to upgrade or may not have the credit to access low interest loans to finance upgrades.  We desperately need investments in the pumps and pipes below ground that deliver water our taps.

Clean Water Action recommends that candidates for elected office support:

  • Increased funding available to states and local communities to pay for drinking water infrastructure upgrades addressing the huge deficit in drinking water infrastructure by significantly increasing funding for the Clean Water and Drinking Water State Revolving Funds
  • Distribute more funding to disadvantaged communities as grants rather than loans
  • Ensure that all infrastructure funding prioritizes resilient and nature-based solutions such as restoring wetlands, building rain gardens, and installing permeable roads and sidewalks
  • Establish an EPA program providing grants for construction, repair, and replacement of individual household decentralized wastewater systems, and for connecting communities without sewer systems to existing sewer systems. This has great potential for job creation and would benefit frontline communities and communities that have been left behind
  • Invest in Water Infrastructure Workforce Development Program, which will provide job-training opportunities for careers in the water utility sector and specifically target opportunities at low-income communities and communities of color.  

 

Keeping drinking water safe: Nearly 80% of Minnesotans receive their drinking water from public water systems, while about 20% use private wells.  About 75% of Minnesotans get their drinking water from groundwater sources. Being the “Land of 10,000 Lakes” and boasting more than 90,000 miles of rivers and streams it can be easy to take clean water and drinking water for granted in Minnesota. However, providing safe drinking water is not free and drinking water systems struggle with aging infrastructure, contaminant challenges, and limited funds.

Clean Water Action recommends that candidates for elected office support:

  • Increased funding for programs for the Small & Disadvantaged Communities program, which assists public water systems in underserved, small and disadvantaged communities meet Safe Drinking Water Act requirements
  • Increase State Bonds to address outdated and failing wastewater infrastructure in Minnesota and to meet matching obligations to secure federal funds
  • Prohibit utilities from shutting water off from households that have fallen behind on their water bills and mandate safe reconnection of households previously disconnected by funding assistance and affordability programs.



PFAS: PFASs are a class of human-made chemicals that includes per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances. These chemicals remain in the environment and in humans and wildlife for a very long time. They have been widely used since the 1950s in fire-fighting foam, non-stick cookware, water-repellent clothing, stain resistant fabrics and carpets, some cosmetics, products that resist grease, water, and oil, and food packaging (like pizza boxes and microwave popcorn bags). A recent study released by the US Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry (ATSDR) found that PFAS were more harmful than previously thought and that “safe levels” were 10 times less than previously thought. Potential health effects identified in this study include liver damage, increases in cholesterol, increased risk of thyroid disease, asthma, and infertility, decreased response to vaccines, riskier pregnancies, and decreases in birth weight.

Clean Water Action recommends that candidates for elected office support:

  • Turn off the creation of more PFAS pollution by reducing food packaging
  • Pass stronger policies that address those most at risk from toxic PFAS contamination
  • Increase funding to remediate PFAS contamination by making polluters pay
  • Use the Clean Water Act to regulate industrial discharges of PFAS and the Safe Drinking Water Act to set a drinking water standard that is protective of vulnerable populations.

 

Reducing Exposure to Lead and Removing Lead Service Lines (LSLs): Lead is a highly poisonous metal and can affect almost every organ in the body and the nervous system. Water traveling to consumers through LSLs poses a serious threat to the health of residents and is thought to be the most common source of lead in drinking water. Communities of color and low-income communities bear the greatest burden of the health effects from LSLs. LSLs need to be replaced in full, including both publicly and privately owned portions of the line. The American Society of Civil Engineers estimates that it will cost $30-$40 billion to replace every lead service line in the country.

Clean Water Action recommends that candidates for elected office support:

  • Support programs at the local, state, and federal level to provide grants and technical assistance for completely replacing lead service lines in households, daycare centers, and schools to protect our children and communities from the damaging impacts of toxic lead pollution
  • Invest in the School Drinking Fountain Replacement Program to help schools and daycare centers replace lead-bearing water fountains and faucets.
  • Prioritize, coordinate and provide homeowners incentives to replace their LSL in coordination with public works projects like street repair or water main repairs outside their homes to significantly reduce costs to replace LSL.

 

Industrial Agricultural Pollution: Runoff pollution from industrial agricultural lands carries excessive nutrients, e. coli, and toxic pesticides into our waterways. These “farms” confine tens of thousands of animals in close quarters. These facilities produce huge amounts of animal waste, too much to be sustainably applied to the land as fertilizer, which fuels harmful and at times toxic algal outbreaks across Minnesota. In Minnesota, where single crop agriculture and factory farms dominate the land to feed the millions of animals in feedlots, up to 80% of the lakes and rivers are unsafe for swimming. This is a significant threat to the region’s drinking water, quality of life, and economic well-being.

Clean Water Action recommends that candidates for elected office support:

  • A new moratorium on Feedlots larger than 1000 animal units  
  • Increased funding for programs like Forever Green that are developing new crops and high-efficiency cropping systems that enhance water and soil quality and provide farmers with added income
  • Promote programs like the Working Lands Watershed Restoration Program that provide a market-based incentive for perennial crops that can be used to produce new biofuels, green chemicals, and green energy crops while providing clean water benefits of perennial plants and sustainable income for the farmer.
  • Policies that will create more buffers on agricultural lands near our water
  • More incentives and programs to promote renewable energy on farms in Minnesota
  • Policies that will enable stronger enforcement and oversight for manure permits for feedlots.

 

Climate Change: Global warming and a changing climate will continue to have disruptive and unpredictable effects on both our drinking water sources and communities. Some places will experience increased frequency and intensity of rain, floods, and sewer overflows. Other areas will experience frequent droughts, water scarcity and increased fire risk. Communities of color and low-income communities bear the greatest burden of environmental pollution and negative effects of climate, have the least access to climate solutions and are often left out of decision-making processes that affect their communities.

Clean Water Action recommends that candidates for elected office support:

  • Inclusion of all stakeholders when creating solutions to address climate change in our communities, especially those groups that have been historically excluded from these processes.
  • Policies that would require electric utilities to use carbon-free fuels by 2050. This would significantly reduce carbon pollution from our power sector. This allows plenty of time and flexibility for utilities to plan and reach the goal while keeping energy reliable and affordable.
  • Clean Energy First—In the next 20 years, many of the large power plants in Minnesotans will reach the end of their lives. This is the perfect time to replace dirty fossil fuel energies like coal with renewable energies like wind and solar.
  • Policies that increase energy efficiency and incentives for utilities, businesses, and individuals to reduce their energy use since its one of the largest contributors to climate change.
  • Policies that would encourage land uses in Minnesota to combat and prepare for climate change.

 

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency: EPA plays a critical role in safeguarding Minnesota from pollution. The EPA sets standards for our drinking water and enforces those standards to protect our health. In recent years, funding state agency budgets and programs have been inconsistent and/or inadequate. Nationally, every budget proposed by the Trump administration has proposed cuts between 25%-35% to the EPA budget. The EPA must receive funding and policy direction that ensures federal clean water efforts do not backslide and they can support state agencies.

Clean Water Action recommends that candidates for elected office support:

  • Efforts to increase funding to agencies like the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency/EPA for programs meant to protect the environment and public health.
  • Ensure the EPA is able to continue to support critical Minnesota programs.
  • Ensure that the states and tribes have the resources needed to protect our drinking water and other water resources from pollution.
  • Oppose any attempts to weaken and/or repeal any existing environmental and public health protections including the Clean Water Act, Safe Drinking Water Act, National Environmental Protection Act, or any other.
  • Increase funding for Superfund Site Cleanup to protect communities from toxic pollution.

 

Thank you again for your interest and wanting to make clean water and safe and affordable drinking water a priority in your race for elected office. If you have any questions about our guide please contact State Director Deanna White at dwhite@cleanwater.org or Water Program Coordinator Steve Schultz at sschultz@cleanwater.org. Good luck with your election!

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