ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Many cities across Minnesota are struggling to finance costly improvements to aging sewer plants while meeting tighter environmental standards.

About 30 percent of wastewater treatment plants in outstate Minnesota are more than 30 years old, according to a Minnesota Pollution Control Agency report.

"We want to be good stewards. ... We know how valuable the water is around Detroit Lakes and for tourism, and we want to do our part too," said Scott Gilbertson, Detroit Lakes' water and wastewater supervisor. "It's hard to keep up with the emerging regulations because they are coming at us so quickly right now."

Some cities say that if they invest in updating plants to current standards, they should be given time to meet new regulations that may be enacted in the next few years, Minnesota Public Radio reported .

"It's pretty much been case history that we will get into a project, get design done and no more than get construction done and new requirement will come upon us," said Vernell Roberts, general manager of Detroit Lakes public utilities.

State and federal funds for infrastructure improvements have decline in recent decades as "the cost of the projects has escalated magnificently," said Craig Johnson, a lobbyist with the League of Minnesota Cities.

"As more and more requirements are added in and different chemicals are required and different techniques are required to treat for those, it just continues to get to be a bigger and bigger deal," Johnson said.

The Legislature directed the agency to draft a rule change that would give cities that upgrade their plants a 16-year break from new environmental regulations. But a judge refused to approve the proposal last month. The agency is considering an appeal.

Environmental groups said the 16-year exception would conflict with the federal Clean Water Act.

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Information from: Minnesota Public Radio News, http://www.mprnews.org