DNR Update for the N&E Metro GWMA Project

department of natural resources


North & East Metro Groundwater Management Area Advisory Team Meeting – 11/03/17

The advisory team for the North and East Metro Groundwater Management Area gathered for its second semi-annual meeting of 2017 on November 3 at the Maplewood Community Center. DNR project manager Dan Miller provided a brief update on progress implementing the North and East Metro Groundwater Management Area Plan noting that:

  • DNR’s water monitoring and surveys unit has been working with the Metropolitan Council as part of a steering committee working to standardize data collection;
  • DNR has launched the pilot phase of a new web-based tool that cities can use to track and improve efforts to conserve drinking water.

The rest of the meeting was devoted to two key topics:

  • The district court ruling on the White Bear Lake lawsuit issued in August;
  • Development of a transient groundwater model.

White Bear Lake court decision

DNR conservation assistance and regulation section manager Julie Ekman provided a brief overview of the case, in which DNR was sued by local interests alleging that the agency had failed to protect White Bear Lake by mismanaging groundwater pumping permits in the area, causing the lake’s water level to fall. In August, a Ramsey County district court judge sided with the plaintiffs and issued a ruling that the agency cannot issue new or increases in groundwater appropriation permits within five miles of White Bear Lake. That prohibition includes activities authorized under general permits for pumping groundwater, such as those for temporary dewatering for construction projects. Consequently the agency had to deny a groundwater appropriation permit for the construction of a sanitary sewer line in Hugo. Another significant implication is the court’s ban on residential irrigation within the five-mile radius whenever White Bear Lake drops below a water level elevation of 923.5 feet. With the added stipulation that lawn watering could not be reinstated until the lake reaches 924 feet, no residential irrigation would have been allowed anytime from 2006 to the present, had the court’s order been in effect. (Note: In December, a Ramsey County District judge issued a temporary stay on the Order until January 26, 2018, the date of the hearing on motions in the case.)

DNR is appealing the court’s decision for a number of reasons, Ekman said.

  • The decision was not rooted in the best available science;
  • It negatively affects many residents of the area without significant benefit to White Bear Lake water levels;
  • The court order takes a broad-brush approach, whereas the new transient groundwater model allows for a much more focused approach.

New groundwater model

Jason Moeckel, DNR inventory, monitoring & analysis section manager, noted that development of a more precise groundwater model that builds upon other models developed by the USGS and the Metropolitan Council was part of the North and East Metro Groundwater Management Area plan approved in 2015. This new tool will contribute to better understanding of changing lake levels and how adjusting groundwater appropriations permits might affect them.

Matt Tonkin, with S.S. Papadopulos and Associates, the firm that developed the new North and East Metro Transient Groundwater Flow Model, explained how it will work. No groundwater model will be perfect, Tonkin emphasized, but the “state of the art” model just developed for the north and east metro area will make it possible to evaluate likely impacts of pumping and other factors in order to develop strategies for mitigation.

Initial runs of the model have shown several important results, including:

  • Pumping can have an effect on water levels of White Bear Lake, with large volume wells closer to the lake having more impact than others when lake levels are low and precipitation is lower than normal for an extended period of time.
  • The aggregate effect of all permitted pumping within five miles of White Bear Lake can lower lake levels by about half a foot in some years, and significantly more during extended periods of lower than normal precipitation.
  • A residential lawn watering ban, as the district court’s August order requires when White Bear Lake falls below 923.5 feet, would have little effect on the lake’s water level.

Moeckel pointed out that Minnesota law does not require that appropriations have no effect on surface waters. While lake recreation may be affected, DNR has found no evidence that recent low water levels in White Bear Lake have had any negative ecological impacts. The new model will allow the agency to quantify changes in lake levels associated with different pumping scenarios, and to work with communities to identify strategies for sustainable water use.

“This is one of the most cutting edge models in the country,” Moeckel said. “While there may be difficult decisions ahead, this tool will make it easier to make them in an informed way.”


Next meeting

The North and East Metro Groundwater Management Area advisory team will meet again on Friday, May 4, 2018, at the DNR headquarters, 500 Lafayette Rd., St. Paul, MN 55155.