Clean Water Council Approves Budget Recommendations

Clean Water Council approves recommendations for investing $220M to protect and restore the state’s waters over the next two years

At their September 21 meeting, the Clean Water Council (a group with members appointed by the Governor to advise the Legislature on implementation of the Clean Water Legacy Act) approved their recommendations for how to allocate a projected $220M from the Clean Water Fund. To people who have been watching and interacting with the Council for years, this year’s process looked a little different. Here are a few key changes:

1) New strategic plan guides decision-making. After the 2019 legislative session, there were concerns expressed about the Clean Water Council’s recommendation process. Following on Freshwater’s Trajectory Project, we were asked to facilitate a conversation between Council members, organizations supportive and critical of the Council, and State Agency leadership to air concerns and figure out strategies to increase return on investment and the understanding of how the Fund is being spent. One of the strongest takeaways was to develop a strategic plan to guide the recommendation process. Going forward, budget requests would be evaluated against the strategic plan and past performance. This inaugural strategic plan for the Council was completed just as the budget development process began.

2) More transparent process for developing recommendations. The other biggest takeaway from the July 2019 stakeholder conversation was the need to increase transparency of the budget recommendation process and the impact of Clean Water Fund investments. Even before the Strategic Plan was complete, Council Administrator Paul Gardner (also a Minnesota Water Steward!) began sharing the process for how recommendations would be developed with key intersection points for stakeholder input. At the final input opportunity and as an Environmental Organization Representative on the Council, Jen Kader took the lead with environmental organizations to hear their feedback. One participant noted that this had been the most transparent and understandable process they’ve seen from the Council yet. In addition to those key intersection points, Paul also sent weekly updates regarding the work of the Council and impact of the Clean Water Fund. The distribution list grew from 300 to over 1,100!

3) Increased input from stakeholders throughout. This biennium’s process received more public input than ever before. In fact, going into the final meeting on September 21, more than 50 organizations, local governments, and companies provided thoughtful comment for Council consideration.

Up next, the recommendations go to Governor Walz for consideration as he develops his budget recommendations, and ultimately to the Legislature for approval in the next session. With an uncertain budget future as a result of coronavirus impacts and the possibility of changes to the amount of funding available, it will be interesting to see how the process plays out in full. We’ll be sure to keep you updated.

At Freshwater, we are thrilled to see the changes mentioned above given the extent to which they align with what was hoped for from the Trajectory Project process. The work is not over yet; Freshwater as an organization—and Jen as a Council member—is committed to continuing to ensure that the Clean Water Fund and other state spending result in real protection and restoration of Minnesota’s waters. For us and everyone downstream.

– Jen Kader, senior program manager