DNR to appeal White Bear Lake ruling

Court ruling would place unnecessary burdens on more than 500,000 White Bear Lake area residents

Judge’s ruling would immediately halt important development within 5 miles of White Bear Lake, stalling road construction, utility improvements, and residential construction

Ruling not supported by scientific evidence, creating precedent that could restrict development and impose new burdens on residents across Minnesota 

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources today announced it will appeal a Ramsey County District Court ruling regarding water management of White Bear Lake and its surrounding groundwater. Without appeal, the court’s ruling would place unnecessary burdens on more than 500,000 White Bear Lake area residents, and immediately halt important development within 5 miles of the lake – stalling road and utility improvements, business growth, and residential construction.

The judge’s ruling – which is not rooted in the best available science – would not significantly help the lake reach the court’s desired water level, and would likely set a new statewide precedent imposing similar burdens and restrictions on residents, businesses, and communities across Minnesota.

“The DNR is strongly committed to protecting Minnesota’s many precious water resources, including White Bear Lake and its surrounding aquifers. We take that responsibility very seriously,” said DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr. “But responsible, effective water management must be supported by sound science. The decisions we make must balance the needs of all Minnesota residents and businesses to ensure everyone has reliable access to clean, affordable water. That important balance, and the quality of life we all enjoy, are at stake in this ruling, which merits a thorough review by the Minnesota Court of Appeals.”

Under the District Court’s ruling, if water levels remain below 923.5 feet above sea level in White Bear Lake, new irrigation and development restrictions would be imposed on area residents and businesses. DNR data show, however, that White Bear Lake’s water levels have registered below this proposed 923.5-foot trigger level in 48 out of the past 58 years. And according to the best available science, the DNR has concluded these new restrictions would have little impact on raising or maintaining the court’s desired water levels in White Bear Lake.

Nonetheless, if the District Court’s ruling is not overturned, residential watering would be banned for 500,000 area residents by early 2018, and could not resume until the lake rises above 924 feet. Under the court’s ruling, this expansive residential watering restriction would remain in place for multiple years during dry periods, and would have likely been in place for the past 10 years had the court’s order been in effect.

Additionally, all temporary water permits for construction within 5 miles of White Bear Lake would be immediately prohibited under the court’s ruling – a change that would stall road construction, utility, and residential development projects in area communities. In the last five years alone, 31 construction projects within 5 miles of the lake required such a permit.

“The DNR is firmly committed to protecting our lakes, rivers, and aquifers. But unnecessary water restrictions can be profoundly disruptive to people, our economy, and communities,” Landwehr said. “The science does not support such a broad irrigation ban, nor these extremely restrictive development prohibitions. More importantly, these restrictions would do little to achieve or sustain desirable water levels in White Bear Lake.”

Landwehr said, however, that the agency does believe some changes to water use may be needed and it is developing an enhanced water model to better understand the impact of pumping from specific wells near White Bear Lake. “This is information that we have only recently been able to develop,” he said. “With this new tool, we are committed to working with local communities, businesses and residents to make carefully targeted, well-informed modifications to water use in the area.”

DNR water experts and local government leaders have serious concerns about the precedent the court’s ruling could establish. If applied elsewhere in Minnesota, this restrictive approach to water management could severely curtail new and amended groundwater appropriation permits for all types of uses, beyond what is needed to ensure water sustainability.

The DNR has until Oct. 30 to appeal the court’s decision, but is announcing its decision now because many area communities are concerned with the ruling and want to know how the DNR will proceed. During the appeal process, the DNR will work with permit holders in the White Bear Lake area to implement some elements of the ruling. The agency will be talking soon with communities about how it will approach this in as collaborative a manner as possible.