The role of a group of 12 counties along the Minnesota River has been refashioned by a new state law.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty recently signed a bill sponsored by Sen. Dennis Frederickson, R-New Ulm, and Rep. Terry Morrow, DFL-St. Peter, that redefines the role of the Minnesota River Board, formerly called the Minnesota River Joint Powers Board.

The board was formed in 1995 after Gov. Arne Carlson called for a major cleanup of the river. The counties provided some funding and got state funding. They were also active in directing specific cleanup efforts and helping to fund them.

But, Frederickson said, the counties have had a less direct role in recent years and some counties dropped out because the state stopped providing its funding share.

“As the cleanup effort has progressed, the role of the board has changed, and this legislation reflects that,” Frederickson said.

Some of the things handled by the board will now be done by the Water Resources Center at Minnesota State University, a data center created by the Legislature in the ’90s.

Frederickson said the western counties struggled to try to fund their membership in the river board after state funding was cut. And he said new federal Clean Water Act rules put more of the river’s cleanup in the hands of the state, not counties.

The state is required to test all waterways and to perform cleanup of those that don’t meet standards.

“The state agencies will do more in directing the cleanup rather than the pure local efforts,” Frederickson said.

It’s likely that a good portion of river cleanup money will come from part of a new three-eighths percent dedicated sales tax approved by voters to pay for water, habitat, trails and other outdoor projects.

“That funding will become very important.”

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