Minneapolis wants groundwater to back up river

The big idea hovering over Twin Cities water use these days is a plan that could encourage some suburbs to draw water from the Mississippi River (via St. Paul or Minneapolis systems) instead of their own well-based water systems. The reason is that increased groundwater pumping over the decades may not be sustainable as suburban growth continues.

So, some suburban officials are wondering, why is Minneapolis hoping to drill new wells to tap the same groundwater aquifer they do? Reporter Elizabeth Dunbar provides the answer on the Ground Level blog: The city is trying to guard against a disaster or some other event that would disrupt its reliance on the river.

The highlights of her report:

But in Minneapolis, recent discussions have centered on drilling a series of groundwater wells as a backup drinking water supply in case something happened to the river supply (think unprecedented drought or some kind of environmental disaster like hazardous materials spilling into the river).

“Relying a sole source always has some risk associated with it,” said Glen Gerads, director of water treatment and distribution services at the City of Minneapolis.

Gerads said if you look at historical flow rates for the Mississippi River, the chances that drought would cause water supply problems for the city are slim. Chances of an environmental disaster are also slim, he said, but right now the city has no backup water supply for the nearly half million people who rely on Minneapolis water.

Reaction by Bryan Bear, Hugo’s city administrator:

“That has to do with their concerns about the river’s reliability and safety,” said Bear, whose city is one of several northeast metro suburbs looking at various solutions to address state officials’ contention that current groundwater use in the region is not sustainable. “So there’s real questions just between Minneapolis and St. Paul on whether the river is the best source. They seem to be both looking to the ground to provide a reliable source of drinking water.”