Bonding to fill White Bear Lake, other water proposals surface at Capitol

white bear
The lake bottom is exposed as water levels recede on White Bear Lake in White Bear Lake, Minn. A group of state lawmakers want to use state bonding money to restore water levels on the lake. Ben Garvin/AP file photo

A group of east metro lawmakers say state bonding money should pay for a system to restore water levels on White Bear Lake.

We're one day into the legislative session, and the proposal is one of the many groundwater-related bills that have been introduced so far.

This session is supposed to be shorter than others, and it's an election year for Gov. Mark Dayton and members of the Minnesota House, so some of these bills might go nowhere. 

Beneath the Surface: Minnesota’s Pending Groundwater Challenge

But because a bonding bill is all but certain, the two bonding proposals below caught my eye. Keep in mind that the bonding bill must pass with a 60 percent majority, meaning the DFL-controlled House and Senate will need help from Republicans.

I've also rounded up a few other proposals related to our Beneath the Surface project. Taken together, if nothing else, the measures seem to reflect a growing interest among officials and others in taking more steps to ensure that the state can maintain its supply of good, available water.

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Issue bonding money for White Bear Lake levels (SF1752/HF2350): No dollar amount is specified in this bill, but it would pay for the Metropolitan Council to "predesign, design, construct and equip" an augmentation system to fill up White Bear Lake, which studies have shown has been stressed in part by the suburbs' demand on area groundwater supplies. The Met Council is currently working on a study and will report to the Legislature later this year on how much various solutions would cost to address what officials call unsustainable groundwater pumping in the north and east metro.

Issue bonding money for city of Hugo stormwater projects (SF1712/HF2337): This proposal would set aside $3 million in bonding money for projects in Hugo that would reduce the use of groundwater by substituting stormwater. Hugo officials are looking for ways to reduce groundwater demand following a U.S. Geological Survey study showing that White Bear Lake water ended up in suburban municipal wells.

Establish a state hydrologist position (HF2088): Rep. Peter Fischer, DFL-Maplewood and Rep. Jerry Newton, DFL-Coon Rapids, want the governor to appoint a University of Minnesota employee to serve as state hydrologist to advise the governor and coordinate water policy among state agencies.

Require cities to adopt water rates that encourage conservation (HF2109): This bill, also authored by Fischer, applies to public water supplies that serve more than 1,000 people. Water bills would have to have a conservation rate structure -- unless the recharge rates for local groundwater aquifers are known.

Several other proposals are expected to be introduced in the coming weeks, including one that would re-establish the Legislative Water Commission to oversee and coordinate water issues in the state.