Conservation Minnesota

Our Water Must Be Accounted For

JohnHellandbiopicMost Minnesotans think of our state as “water-rich,” which we are as partially witnessed by our license plates, but only up to a point.  Our DNR, which is responsible for managing water resources, says it doesn’t have the necessary equipment or manpower to properly do so.

This was well reported in media sources last week.  In 1950, 90 percent of water used by Minnesotans came from surface sources.  By 2010, 75 percent now used comes from groundwater sources.

White Bear Lake has been in the news over the past decade because of the water level dramatically dropping.  In fact there is a current lawsuit by their conservation district against the DNR claiming the adjacent municipalities were allowed to overdraw the area groundwater for well use at the peril of the lake level.

Various water shortages occur in the state, especially in the western and southern parts, where groundwater aquifers aren’t always so deep and rainfall can be less frequent.  The DNR states it can’t adequately measure groundwater sources because of a lack of monitoring wells.  They have about 800 wells now, with a need up to 7,000 to adequately cover the state.

What is disturbing is that the DNR admits that they don’t make use of the well monitoring information they presently get.  Research has shown that some communities and facilities are pumping groundwater way more than their DNR permit allows.  Yet there is little DNR enforcement, even in this latest drought period.  Charges aren’t brought for over-pumping your allocated amount.

Governor Dayton unveiled a proposal last week to boost the permit fees for water use.  Right now citizens pay about 1/1,000 of one cent per one gallon of water used.  The proposal, to be heard in the House Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture Finance Committee tomorrow morning, will raise the fees across the board, sometimes doubling them to certain users.  The average citizen may see a 50-cent to a dollar rise annually in their water bill.

This is all well and good to get more monitoring and measuring equipment, but the legislature should ensure that the DNR start rigidly enforcing their water permit requirements, and put people on notice that we can’t treat water as a free good with wasteful consequences.

About John Helland

John Helland
John Helland is a history graduate of the University of Minnesota. He served as the nonpartisan legislative research analyst for the Minnesota House of Representatives after graduation. He worked extensively on environment and natural resources legislation and issues, and was the primary nonpartisan research staffer for the House Environment and Natural Resources Policy and Finance committees from 1971 to 2008.
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