Minn. pushed to better groundwater management

White Bear Lake
The lake bottom is exposed as water levels recede on White Bear Lake in White Bear Lake, Minn., on Tuesday, Nov. 27, 2012. A group of White Bear Lake residents and business owners are suing the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources claiming the agency's practices have contributed to falling levels at the lake north of St. Paul. In the background is Tally's Dockside bar.
AP Photo/The St. Paul Pioneer Press, Ben Garvin

Minnesota needs to do a better job of managing its groundwater resources — that was the consensus at a forum held Thursday by the non-profit group, Environmental Initiative.

Groundwater provides drinking water for three-fourths of Minnesotans. It also feeds lakes and rivers and irrigates crops.

Some parts of the state are already experiencing water shortages, and the state Department of Natural Resources is working on ways to begin planning ahead instead of simply issuing one permit after another.

The DNR's Steven Hirsch said the current approach will not work in the long run.

Create a More Connected Minnesota

MPR News is your trusted resource for the news you need. With your support, MPR News brings accessible, courageous journalism and authentic conversation to everyone - free of paywalls and barriers. Your gift makes a difference.

"The current system does not work very well when you have situations when the demand is starting to exceed the supply," Hirsch said.

Hirsch said the DNR is figuring out how to divide the state into groundwater management zones, and will recruit participants for pilot programs to manage the resource proactively.

Deborah Swackhamer, co-director of the University of Minnesota's Water Resources Center, said the current lawsuit over low water levels in White Bear Lake is a warning sign.

"I think we have an opportunity to think about groundwater management before it becomes super-contentious like it is in states that don't have good water resources," Swackhamer said.

The lawsuit says the DNR has allowed too much water to be taken from the aquifer underlying White Bear Lake.

• Follow Stephanie Hemphill on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/mpr_hemphill