For the first time in nearly 25 years, state officials are proposing to increase water quality permit fees, a move that could raise water bills for some property owners.

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) is seeking public comment on the proposal to raise fees to fund its water quality regulatory programs for farms, municipalities and industry. The goal is to generate an estimated $2.1 million.

Any industrial facility, municipality or private entity that discharges more than a specified amount of certain pollutants or runs a storm­water system must pay fees for an MPCA permit. Farms that feed, raise or hold animals require MPCA permits for proper manure disposal.

MPCA Assistant Division Director Katie Smith said the agency doesn't want to increase fees for cities or businesses that hold water permits, but the increases are significantly less than the cost of the programs.

Fees currently cover 17% of the total costs of running the agency's water permitting programs, while the proposed hikes would increase that figure to 30%. Smith acknowledged the costs could be passed on to some property owners.

Critics see the proposal as a misguided attempt to raise money. Lucas Sjostrom, Minnesota Milk Producers Association executive director, called it a "nickel-and-dime proposal" that doesn't offer farms any additional services.

Some of the proposed changes include making municipal wastewater fees dependent on the amount of water flow per day, ranging from $600 to $15,500, and charging a city for storm sewer systems based on population.

The proposal will be available for public comment until 4:30 p.m. March 13.

Henry Erlandson