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More than half of Minnesota communities affected by extreme weather caused by climate change, survey finds

“The rain events that used to occur every 50 or 100 hears are now happening every 10 years or even more frequently,” said Minnesota Pollution Control Agency Commissioner Katrina Kessler. “It’s not just once in your lifetime, it’s three or more times in one decade that you’re having to think about impacts on local resources as well as infrastructure and homes.”

Flood
A submerged mail box is the only sign of the driveway for this flooded home on Lakeshore Drive in Moose Lake on Thursday, June 21, 2012.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune file photo

ST. PAUL — Many Minnesota communities already experiencing severe weather effects from climate change say they’ll need more resources to address challenges posed by extreme rainfall and drought, according to a new survey from the state's environmental agency.

While different parts of the state have experienced a range of challenges from a changing climate, one of the biggest immediate effects is the increased frequency of extreme rainfall and storms. Major rainfall can put stress on city infrastructure, overloading sewer systems.

“The rain events that used to occur every 50 or 100 hears are now happening every 10 years or even more frequently,” said Katrina Kessler, Minnesota Pollution Control Agency commissioner. “It’s not just once in your lifetime, it’s three or more times in one decade that you’re having to think about impacts on local resources as well as infrastructure and homes.”

Minnesota Pollution Control Agency received responses from 380 communities in its 2022 Climate Action Survey. The agency found that 54% reported more extreme rainfall and storms, 49% experienced extreme drought, 46% have seen less consistent snow cover and 33% have seen more frequent flooding than in the past. While three-fourths of the cities, counties and tribes addressed climate change in some of their planning, just 12% had a stand-alone climate plan, according to the survey released Wednesday, May 4.

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“These impacts and others pose destructive challenges to communities across Minnesota. We must act now to prepare our communities and landscape for changes that are already underway and that we know are unavoidable,” Kessler said. “If local governments are not equipped to handle these changes, residents and businesses will continue to bear the brunt of this destruction.”

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Terry Sveine, mayor of the south-central Minnesota city of New Ulm, said whether it's major droughts or torrential downpours, the biggest challenge for his community is the amount of water coming from the sky.

“Our wastewater treatment plant really needs help. I talked to the manager of that and he said our normal treatment is 2,000 gallons a minute. We’ve had downpours of 8 inches in an hour and a half, which we were dealing with 10,000 — five times the amount,” the mayor explained. “We just can’t continue with that rate, so we’re going to need help.”

Overloaded water treatment systems can damage pipes, cause flooding in areas it historically hasn’t happened, and even lead to breaches that release untreated water into the environment, Kessler said.

Mary Supple, an at-large city council member for the Minneapolis suburb of Richfield, said major rain events in her city over the past five or six years have washed out trails that have been around for half a century.

The survey found that 42% of communities said they needed funding for infrastructure and guidance on best practices. To address the issue, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency this legislative session requested $21 million from the state in stormwater construction grants for cities, counties and tribes across the state. It’s also requesting $55 million for projects like shade tree planting and stream bank restoration.

Alex Derosier covers Minnesota breaking news and state government for Forum News Service.
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