Even in the land of 10,000 lakes, water is no longer unlimited. Lakes shrink, groundwater drops, wells go dry or get contaminated. Some cities have to look harder for good municipal water or pay more to treat it. Twenty years ago these were isolated problems. But three-quarters of Minnesota’s residents get their water from aquifer-tapping wells, and today parts of the state seem to be on a path that is not sustainable.
“Unprecedented water use conflicts are arising between businesses, towns, and residents,” the Department of Natural Resources said in October in a draft plan for dealing with groundwater. Business operations are at risk; recreation is being affected, it said.
“Aquifers are being depleted; lakes, streams and wetlands are being damaged and in some areas, groundwater levels have declined by as much as 40 feet, roughly one foot each year, since the 1970s,” a Metropolitan Council official said recently.
In the Twin Cities, where a shrinking White Bear Lake is the poster child, a tussle is growing over whether suburbs should shift from tapping wells to pulling water from the Mississippi River. Elsewhere, Park Rapids, Marshall and other cities have had to spend millions of dollars to respond to dropping water levels or contamination. The DNR has mapped “areas of concern” around the state, and an ambitious plan from the state Department of Agriculture to test 70,000 wells is renewing questions about how much farmers should be required to do to limit nitrate contamination in groundwater.
In coming months, a Ground Level project, “Beneath the Surface: Minnesota’s Pending Groundwater Challenge,” will shine a light on the pressures on Minnesota’s groundwater and how residents, businesses and officials are being asked to adapt. On Wednesday, MPR News reporter Elizabeth Dunbar examines a new approach the state is launching in the north and northeast metro area, an approach that some say is overdue and others fear.
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