DNR Update for the N&E Metro GWMA Project

department of natural resources


North & East Metro Groundwater Management Area Advisory Team Meeting – 5/5/17

The advisory team for the North and East Metro Groundwater Management Area gathered for its first semi-annual meeting of 2017 on May 5 at DNR headquarters in St. Paul. The group heard updates on a variety of topics and issues related to the sustainable management of groundwater, including:

  • A review of efforts to identify locations of rare groundwater dependent plant species in the Anoka Sand Plain;
  • An update on legislative proposals related to groundwater management;
  • An overview of the DNR’s process in setting a protective elevation for White Bear Lake;
  • A summary of DNR’s report to the legislature on augmenting White Bear Lake with surface water from other basins;
  • An update on water supply plans, including a review of the city of Blaine’s experience with water supply planning.

The North & East Metro Groundwater Management Area advisory team was established to provide ongoing insights to the DNR as it implements a five-year plan approved in November 2015. The plan provides a framework within which DNR will work with water users such as municipalities to promote conservation, protect surface waters and water quality, improve the groundwater appropriations permitting process, and resolve any conflicts that might arise among users. The plan covers all of Ramsey and Washington Counties, along with portions of Anoka and Hennepin.

Identifying rare resources in the Anoka Sand Plain

Jason Husveth, principal ecologist with Critical Connections Ecological Services Inc., shared information about his 20 years of surveying areas in the Anoka Sand Plain for rare wetland plant species. Such areas can support an incredible diversity of plant species, Husveth said. But many are under threat from development, drainage, altered water chemistry and fire suppression; and protection has been reactive and on a site-by-site basis.  To better protect them in a more proactive way, Husveth has been developing a GIS model that combines a variety of field data to predict where such plants may occur.

Legislation, augmentation & protective elevation

Jason Moeckel, a section manager for DNR’s division of Ecological and Water Resources, provided the group with an update regarding legislative proposals that could impact DNR efforts to sustainably manage groundwater resources in the state, as well as a policy change that would make it easier to re-use stormwater for certain purposes.

Moeckel also re-capped DNR’s rationale for setting a protective elevation for White Bear Lake at 922 feet above mean sea level. That level was set based upon an examination of historical water levels in White Bear, as well as a determination of potential impacts to recreation, navigation and near-shore emergent vegetation. White Bear has been above 922 for 73 percent of its historical record. Setting a protective elevation does not mean the lake will never fall below that level; rather, it serves as a regulatory trigger that would require more strict water conservation measures, such as a total ban on lawn watering. What steps might be required will become more clear after a groundwater model is completed later this year.

Finally, Moeckel updated the group on a legislative mandate for DNR to prepare cost estimates for augmenting the water level in White Bear Lake by pumping in water from another basin. After issuing a request for proposals, DNR received only one estimate for the project. Consulting/engineering firm Short Elliott Hendrickson (SEH) estimated a cost of between $44 million and $48 million in design and construction costs, and about $413,000 in annual operations and maintenance costs. SEH also found that, in order to meet water quality standards and goals, it may be necessary to employ advanced water treatment that could add significantly to both construction and operational costs.

Water supply planning

DNR groundwater hydrologist Mark Bushinski told the advisory team that communities around the metro region have been making progress on water conservation strategies as they update their water supply plans. Measures taken include financial incentives for installing plumbing fixtures that use less water, encouraging the use of rain barrels and rain gardens, and requiring a minimum density of trees to promote shade and reduce evaporation. Overall, residential water use is trending downward, with eight cities in the area achieving the goal of 75 gallons per capita per day 80 percent or more of the time.

George Linngren, water department supervisor for Blaine, offered his observations on that city’s recently updated water supply plan. As part of its effort to get approval for four new wells, the city adopted a more rigorous conservation plan, including a watering ban between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. daily. Linngren said that while developing the plan was a lot of work, in the end it was well worth it.

Wrap-up and next steps

Following the presentations, advisory team members discussed how DNR might better communicate groundwater information to people and organizations within the North and East Metro Groundwater Management Area, and what roles DNR and others should play in promoting groundwater recharge.

The North and East Metro Groundwater Management Area advisory team will meet again on Friday, November 3, 2017, from 9:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. at the DNR headquarters, 500 Lafayette Rd., St. Paul. MN, 55155.