Why not just fill up White Bear Lake from one of the rivers?

File photo: Receding water levels of White Bear Lake. Jeffrey Thompson/MPR News

The city of White Bear Lake last week was allowed to join the defense in the lawsuit over the level of the lake, a reminder that the case is simmering along as a mediator tries to help forge an agreement.

Beneath the Surface: Minnesota’s Pending Groundwater Challenge

Homeowners and businesses near the shrunken lake have sued the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, arguing it should not have been so free with allowing nearby cities to pull water from the ground, thereby sucking water away from the lake.

In her order, Judge Margaret Marrinan slapped the city around a little for waiting so long to try to get into the case — she called “incredible” the city’s contention that it only realized after reading an expert’s report in January that it had an interest in the case. Marrinan pointed out that half the lake lies within the city. But she nonetheless let the city side with the DNR as a defendant (White Bear Lake Township was already in the case as a defendant) because of the importance of the lake to the city.

But she also imposed several conditions, including one that would allow the Metropolitan Council a seat at the table in the mediation talks as an advisor on water planning issues.

All of which brings me to Question 7 in our water-related Q and A series. This one was raised in a public DNR information in Shoreview in January.

Why don’t we take care of White Bear Lake by pumping water from the St. Croix or the Mississippi rivers, which in turn would replenish groundwater? 

Jim StarkJim Stark, U.S. Geological Survey Minnesota Water Science Center Director

We could do that. However, there are complications to consider. Pumping water uphill from the St Croix, or from the Mississippi River, would be expensive because of construction and pumping costs. Invasive species in the rivers could harm the lake and consequently river water may need to be treated before it could be allowed to be introduced to the lake. The quality of the water in the rivers may not be compatible with the water in the lake. Finally, augmentation of the lake with river water might set a precedence for other lakes with similar problems in the future.

Ali ElhassanAli Elhassan, water supply planning manager, Metropolitan Council

Augmenting White Bear Lake with surface water from the Mississippi River is being evaluated as part of a Metropolitan Council water supply study. Augmentation from the St. Croix, however, is not considered feasible because:

  • Elevation differences between the river and lake that would make pumping and operational costs prohibitive.
  • St. Croix’s status as a federally-protected waterway makes the permitting process for pumping water difficult and lengthy.

Also,  seepage from White Bear Lake into the underlying aquifer, Prairie du Chien-Jordan, would not contribute sufficiently enough to the recharge of the aquifer to make augmentation, by itself, a viable option.

Question 1. Should water cost us more?

Question 2. Should farmers be forced to change?

Question 3. Why would a farmer drain land and irrigate it?

Question 4. Does Minnesota water law make it easier or harder to deal with conflicts?

Question 5. Can we fill up our underground water supply with stormwater?

Question 6. Do you know how much water your neighbor uses?

  • Humanfodder

    We have a cottage on a lake with low water levels too. Can we get that filled? I bet not ’cause I ain’t rich! Oh WBLers! Life sometimes works against you!

    • Steven Theisen

      But I highly doubt that your lake isn’t resting on an aquifer that is being used for the area’s water supplies. I think the easy option is to discharge water after treatment into the lake. Then you can at least come close to being a net neutral design, minus all the water than people use for their wasteful green lawns, unless you have children, lawns are seldom used for recreation. There’s plenty of alternative options for attractive landscaping instead of a monoculture of green kentucky bluegrass.

    • starky9927

      yes, because the census median household income of $52,934 makes WBL a “rich people” city.

      • Joe

        He was likely referring specifically to the property owners on the lake itself, not the residents of the municipality.

  • Dave Peters

    Steven — Interesting idea to use treated waste water to keep the lake full. I think some people would say that still doesn’t change the trend toward pumping more groundwater in the surrounding cities, ultimately lowering the aquifer levels. (which is also a problem with the idea of pumping water from a river.)

  • Mrs. Knows All

    NO NO NO, If the USGS is correct, do not dump our river water into the lake. Use the river water smarter, stop pumping groundwater from wells. Shut the wells off that are causing this problem and seal them. If the USGS is correct, the lake level should begin to rebound naturally back to level. Right?

    • LifebloodMN

      If the USGS is correct, the aquifer needs to be addressed (St. peter-Prairie du Chien- Jordan) which is bigger than the state of Iowa. Any additions to the lake would seep to the underlying aquifer. So why pump to the lake?

  • LifebloodMN

    Why hasn’t anyone listened to Fletcher Driscoll? He lives on WBL and wrote the book on “Groundwater and wells”. The guy is a genius and everyone is just shoving him aside.

  • Rascal McDoogle

    Too bad we can’t pump all this excess rain water into the lake. Minimize the flooding and help refill the lake. Just a thought.

  • Allan Lofthus

    White Bear Lake is a “meandered” body of water which, theoretically, means that the shoreline property owner’s rights follow the waterline. As the water level falls, lake shore lots are getting bigger.

    Is Ramsey County changing property tax assessments to account for the change in water level?