North & East Metro GWMA Update

minnesota department of natural resources

North & East Metro Groundwater Management Area Update

June 14, 2018

The advisory group for the North and East Metro Groundwater Management Area gathered for its first semi-annual meeting of 2018 on May 4 at the Ramsey County Public Works Facility in Arden Hills. DNR project manager Dan Miller highlighted actions being taken by the agency, communities and other entities to achieve goals described in the area groundwater management plan, including:

  • DNR work to provide real data by adding another weather station in the groundwater management area;
  • Efforts by communities and other government units to decrease groundwater appropriation by re-using stormwater for irrigation;
  • Promotion of water conservation and efficiency measures such as lawn watering restrictions, distribution of smart irrigation controllers, conservation water rates, and education and outreach.

Handouts summarizing accomplishments by DNR and others were distributed as part of the meeting packet.

Transient groundwater model

Jason Moeckel, DNR inventory, monitoring & analysis section manager, updated the group on the application and refinement of the transient groundwater model that was developed by a consultant working with DNR and released last November. The model has been able to show the relative impacts of different wells within a five-mile radius of White Bear Lake. It also indicates that a residential lawn watering ban would likely have little effect on the lake’s water level, resulting in only about 1-inch a year.

Since its release last fall, DNR has been tinkering with the model to see how other information might be incorporated to improve its accuracy, such as a University of Minnesota study of evaporation on White Bear Lake, and refined bathymetry data. DNR will continue working with a technical team and the original consultant to refine the model. By the end of August, the agency will run several different scenarios through the model and publish the results.

(NOTE: During the meeting a question was asked about two scenarios simulated by the transient groundwater model, and Moeckel provided an answer that may have resulted in some confusion. He offers this clarification:

“The DNR used the new model to simulate many different pumping scenarios based on water use information reported to DNR by appropriation permit holders. One simulation evaluated the impacts of pumping attributed to summer water use that is over and above winter use. The Metropolitan Council estimates that this additional summer water use in June, July, and August is on average 25 percent of the total water use for a public water supplier in the Twin Cities Metro Area. This estimate is calculated by subtracting reported winter water use for January, February and March from reported summer water use for June, July, and August. The difference in water use includes not only lawn watering, but other uses that may increase in the summer months (e.g., showering, laundry, swimming pools, garden watering, etc.). The DNR used these estimates to evaluate impacts to White Bear Lake water levels that might result from the residential irrigation ban required by the Ramsey County District Court order. This simulation used the reported water use from public water suppliers from 2006 through 2016, because that’s the period when lake levels were below 923.5 feet (the water level that, under the court order, triggers the irrigation ban). This calculated amount is likely higher than the amount of water actually used for lawn irrigation (municipal suppliers do not specifically track residential irrigation). When this model simulation was conducted, reducing pumping by these amounts, it generated results indicating a negligible difference in White Bear Lake water levels. Since this estimate of summer water use is higher than actual residential irrigation water use, the DNR has determined that the residential irrigation ban will have little effect on water levels of White Bear Lake. Rather, the model shows, a few public water suppliers pumping groundwater from wells nearest the lake may be impacting water levels the most out of all the permitted water appropriations within five miles of the lake.

DNR also used the model to simulate a 25 percent reduction in pumping from all permitted uses within five miles of White Bear Lake, using reported water use data from permit holders from 1988 to 2016.  This is very different from the simulation that looked at impacts to lake levels resulting from additional municipal pumping during the summer (representing residential irrigation), and it produces different results.”)

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White Bear Lake litigation status

DNR conservation assistance and regulation manager Julie Ekman provided an update on the status of litigation around White Bear Lake. In 2012 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 placing restrictions on appropriations within five miles of White Bear Lake. In following the court’s order, DNR earlier this year issued revised groundwater appropriation permits with added conditions:

  • Implement a residential irrigation ban whenever White Bear Lake drops to a level of 923.5 feet that remains in effect until the lake level reaches 924 feet.
  • Revise water supply plans to include a strategy to change the source of water from groundwater to totally or partially from surface water.
  • Develop plans for reducing per capita water use.
  • Report on collaborative efforts with other northeast metro communities to reduce per capita water use.

As of March, DNR had received 20 demands for hearings before an administrative law judge to challenge the revised permits, Ekman said. She also noted that DNR attorneys were evaluating their next steps in response to the court ruling. 

(NOTE: Subsequent to the advisory team meeting, the DNR filed an appeal with the Minnesota Court of Appeals on May 11, challenging the court’s decision and seeking a stay of its order.)

3M settlement

Steve Colvin, deputy director for DNR’s division of ecological and water resources, summarized a settlement reached in February between the state of Minnesota and the 3M Company. Minnesota’s attorney general sued 3M in 2010 alleging that the company’s production of chemicals known as PFCs had damaged drinking water and natural resources in the east Twin Cities metro area. Under the terms of the settlement, 3M made an $850 million grant to the state. After legal and other expenses are paid, about $720 million will be available to be used for projects that assure clean drinking water and healthy natural resources in the east metro area. Allocation of funds will be overseen by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and the DNR in consultation with work groups made up of representatives from the affected communities. The settlement is relevant to the North and East Metro Groundwater Management Area for several reasons, Colvin said, including:

  • A significant amount of groundwater is being pumped within the area to remediate contamination;
  • Settlement funds might be used to protect groundwater recharge areas and to promote water conservation.
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Water conservation activities

DNR project manager Dan Miller introduced Leo Steidel, a consultant hired by DNR to help advance water conservation goals within the management area by developing an online water use reporting tool. The DNR water conservation reporting system was rolled out in January, allowing public water suppliers to better track water use and evaluate the results of conservation practices. 27 public utilities in the groundwater management area participated in the pilot project, Steidel said. One of the most important outcomes from it was simply getting communities to pay closer attention to their water use and to be more aware of conservation measures they can put into practice. Next steps will include publication of a water conservation report, further efforts to provide training on using the tool and working with commercial and industrial permitees to assist them with reporting water use and conservation. Steidel said the online reporting tool is positioning Minnesota as a pioneer in water conservation efforts.

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Feedback & input

Following the formal presentations, participants broke into small groups to share success stories around water conservation, identify barriers and opportunities for further progress, and offer suggestions for DNR in relation to the groundwater management area’s conservation goals. Among the items reported back out to the larger group:

  • Stormwater re-use was identified as one of the prominent success stories.
  • Consideration of water conservation early on during land-use planning and development phases was identified as a significant opportunity, while the existence of many local codes requiring turf grass was mentioned as an obstacle to water conservation efforts.
  • Suggestions to DNR related to water conservation goals included providing real-time water use tracking capabilities and getting away from per-capita use as a measure of efficiency in communities with large industrial users.

Next Meeting

The North and East Metro Groundwater Management Area advisory team will meet again towards the end of 2018. A meeting announcement detailing the date, time and location will be sent out in advance. Subscribe to North & East Metro Groundwater Management Area email updates at

For questions or more information, please contact:

Dan Miller
Project Manager, N & E Metro GWMA
Phone: 651-259-5731

N & E Metro GWMA Website: