Conservation Minnesota

Minnesota Takes Groundwater Seriously

JohnHellandbiopicThe recent legislative session brought new attention and resources in the continuing focus of groundwater/surface water interaction.  Because of the concern over dropping lake levels on White Bear Lake, the Metropolitan Council received $537,000 to study adjacent groundwater withdrawals and their connection with surface water quantity.

The Met Council also received $2 million in Clean Water Legacy funds for region-wide planning to achieve a sustainable groundwater and surface water balance of use in the metropolitan area.

The Health Department received ample funding to study and eliminate drinking water contaminants from groundwater sources.  And the Board of Water and Soil Resources received $2.6 million to acquire conservation easements for wellhead protection areas.

Significant money – $20 million plus – goes to the DNR to better assess groundwater appropriation permits and the monitoring of withdrawals.  $9.5 million comes from the bonding bill for better coverage of monitoring wells to provide needed data.  In lieu of proposed water fee increases, $7.6 million was made available from the general fund to the DNR and local governments for groundwater level monitoring; for important analysis for permitting decisions; for enhanced data information systems; and for review of high-capacity wells using groundwater before permitting decisions.

Another $3 million will be used by the DNR to designate and map groundwater management areas for better reporting and evaluation of sustainability.  A lot of this renewed effort on groundwater concerns was helped out by session media reports by the St. Paul Pioneer Press and MinnPost, and an important report by the Freshwater Society, “Minnesota Groundwater:  Is our Use Sustainable.”

In our neighboring state of Wisconsin, groundwater regulation is being hampered by proposed new legislation.  A provision has been snuck in their omnibus budget bill that will restrict the public through environmental review from challenging the cumulative effects of high-capacity wells pumping 100,000 gallons a day.  Experts say this is a severe danger to lakes, rivers and streams, especially in the central sands region of the state.

So while next-door Wisconsin seems to be going backward in protecting their groundwater resource, Minnesota is backing it’s policy and regulation by infusing serious monetary resources into better understanding the resource and searching for sustainability.

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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