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What’s the Deal with Water Supply?

March 10, 2015

What’s the Deal with Water Supply?

By Michael Thompson, Chair, APWA-MN Environment and Sustainability Committee

A legal settlement, city resolutions opposing the legal settlement, feasibility assessments, plan updates -- the list continues. What is going on with all this water supply discussion?  

The momentum started when White Bear Lake Restoration Association and White Bear Lake Homeowners’ Association sued the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) over the lower levels of White Bear Lake.  The suit claimed that the DNR’s approval of groundwater appropriations for municipal wells of neighboring communities for public water supply was directly affecting lake levels. Experts disagree on the cause of the lower lake level, but DNR experts contend it is the result of low precipitation in recent years. 

The United States Geological Survey (USGS) continues to study the relationship between the lake levels and the aquifer. The current study is expected to be produced by fall 2016.

The lawsuit was recently settled, and according to the DNR halts further litigation for up to three years; requires the DNR to set a protective water level elevation for White Bear Lake by November 1, 2016; and outlines conservation efforts of 13 surrounding communities with a goal of 17 percent reduction in water use. 

It is important to note that many cities throughout Minnesota have been proactively implementing conservation efforts on their own accord for a number of years. Read the open letter from DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr regarding the settlement (pdf).

What about other agencies and water supply? How does the Metropolitan Council fit in to this conversation if they are not the regulator?  

The Met Council, as a planning agency, was directed by the Legislature to produce a Feasibility Assessment that evaluated four specific approaches to reduce reliance on groundwater sources in the Northeast Metro. Three of the approaches focused on water supply while the fourth evaluated direct augmentation of White Bear Lake using water from the St. Croix or Mississippi River. Read the summary report (pdf).

APWA-MN sent a letter September 2, 2014, to the Metropolitan Council requesting more involvement and input on water supply planning discussions relating to sustainable water supplies in the metro area -- especially in the northeast metro area -- given the quick moving studies and legislative interest. 

The Met Council recently reached out to APWA-MN, City Engineers Association of Minnesota (CEAM), and local water supply providers, and created a Community Technical Work Group with broad metro representation to further advance the discussion of these and other approaches towards a sustainable water supply. The first meeting was held February 17, with three more to follow. 

Discussion ranges from the Groundwater Modeling inputs to better understanding the definition of water sustainability. APWA-MN President Bob Cockriel serves as the APWA-MN representative to the group. 

While the initial study by Met Council focused on the northeast metro, any future actions or policies that come from the ongoing dialogue most certainly will have implications across the metropolitan area and state. A variety of perspectives exist on this topic; however, with more collaboration, information sharing, and stakeholder input, the opportunities for long-term success and sustainability greatly increases.

For more information about this issue please see the following sources: 

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