“Water, water, everywhere,
And all the boards did shrink;
Water, water, everywhere,
Nor any drop to drink.”
— Samuel Taylor Coleridge, from the Rime of the Ancient Mariner
When the White Bear Lake Restoration Association and the White Bear Lake Homeowners’ Association sued the DNR two years ago over declining lake levels, very few expected the settlement that was reached this week between the two parties. This rift between not only these associations and the DNR, but also between commercial developers and life-long residents are very complicated.
At the crux of the debate is a significant disagreement about why the level of White Bear Lake continues to decrease, leaving large stretches of marshy land exposed, and forcing property values down with it. The associations argue the DNR has permitted too much groundwater use in the area; the parties blame small north metro communities that have grown quickly in the past few years for the city’s lake misfortunes. The DNR on the other hand, says the nationally recognized hydrogeologist it hired concluded the cause of the lake’s decline in recent years is likely climate related. The department added that White Bear Lake’s low level is still within the lake’s historic range and the DNR adds, it’s healthy for a lake to show natural variation. Basically, the DNR disagreed entirely with the premise of the lawsuit, and notes the lake level has risen rapidly in the last year.
However, there is something all sides agree on, and that is conservation efforts. The DNR has conceded that groundwater resources may be overburdened in the future as the north and east metro region continues to grow. White Bear Lake and surrounding communities agree that pressure must be relieved from the Prairie du Chien-Jordan aquifer, but there are many questions regarding the settlement laid out this week that describe a multi-phase, highly costly project that would move six northeast metro communities to a surface water supply coming from the Mississippi River.
There are many disagreements over this proposed project. For starters, the estimated cost lies somewhere between $155 million and $230 million for just the first phase. That is a lot of money, and it comes at a time when other issues may be at the forefront of lawmaker’s minds. Likewise, the legislature will not want to act until we are sure an investment of this size will fix the problem, and I don’t believe we are at that conclusion quite yet. Additionally, it’s not clear who would be sponsoring and putting together this legislation. Even if it did pass through the legislature it would mean a loss of revenue for the six communities switching their water supply. This loss in revenue would need to be taken into consideration in the overall long-term planning.
I recently spoke with DNR Assistant Commissioner Barb Naramore about this very point. Barb says the DNR will certainly have to take into consideration the loss of water revenue for many of these communities. We agree that many questions remain unanswered and that her team as well as several others throughout the northeast metro community will be exploring solutions earnestly over the coming months. Because our water supply is so important, we need to get this right.
Finally, very soon the Metropolitan Council will be releasing its long-anticipated report, ‘The Final Feasibility Assessment of Water Supply in the Northeast Metro.” The goal of this report is to develop a water management plan for the region’s groundwater supply. This could include plans to augment the lake, which is what some have long argued for. Planning long-term for a sustainable water supply system is in the best interest of all northeast metro communities.
I believe the information contained in the Met Council’s report will provide a little clarity to this entire situation. Taking time to review this report’s findings will be an essential part of planning what the next step will be. In addition to further review, all of the communities affected by this settlement must be allowed to give their opinions at a public forum. I urge everyone to listen, learn, and work together in the coming months so that a plan can be formulated that is good for all.
As always, please contact me with questions or suggestions regarding any issue. I encourage you to visit me at the Capitol, or let me know if you’d like me to stop by your home or apartment. Also, please tune in to my local cable TV show, “Your Capitol: What’s Up?” which appears on public access channels 15 and 16. I can be reached by email at email@example.com and by phone at 651-296-6820.