Ground Level Blog

Why not just fill up White Bear Lake from one of the rivers?

White Bear Lake
Receding water levels of White Bear Lake. File / Jeffrey Thompson/MPR News

The city of White Bear Lake last week was allowed to join the defense in the lawsuit over the level of the lake, a reminder that the case is simmering along as a mediator tries to help forge an agreement.

Beneath the Surface: Minnesota’s Pending Groundwater Challenge

Homeowners and businesses near the shrunken lake have sued the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, arguing it should not have been so free with allowing nearby cities to pull water from the ground, thereby sucking water away from the lake.

In her order, Judge Margaret Marrinan slapped the city around a little for waiting so long to try to get into the case -- she called "incredible" the city's contention that it only realized after reading an expert's report in January that it had an interest in the case. Marrinan pointed out that half the lake lies within the city. But she nonetheless let the city side with the DNR as a defendant (White Bear Lake Township was already in the case as a defendant) because of the importance of the lake to the city.

But she also imposed several conditions, including one that would allow the Metropolitan Council a seat at the table in the mediation talks as an advisor on water planning issues.

All of which brings me to Question 7 in our water-related Q and A series. This one was raised in a public DNR information in Shoreview in January.

Why don’t we take care of White Bear Lake by pumping water from the St. Croix or the Mississippi rivers, which in turn would replenish groundwater? 


Jim Stark, U.S. Geological Survey Minnesota Water Science Center Director

We could do that. However, there are complications to consider. Pumping water uphill from the St Croix, or from the Mississippi River, would be expensive because of construction and pumping costs. Invasive species in the rivers could harm the lake and consequently river water may need to be treated before it could be allowed to be introduced to the lake. The quality of the water in the rivers may not be compatible with the water in the lake. Finally, augmentation of the lake with river water might set a precedence for other lakes with similar problems in the future.


Ali Elhassan, water supply planning manager, Metropolitan Council

Augmenting White Bear Lake with surface water from the Mississippi River is being evaluated as part of a Metropolitan Council water supply study. Augmentation from the St. Croix, however, is not considered feasible because:

  • Elevation differences between the river and lake that would make pumping and operational costs prohibitive.

  • St. Croix’s status as a federally-protected waterway makes the permitting process for pumping water difficult and lengthy.

Also,  seepage from White Bear Lake into the underlying aquifer, Prairie du Chien-Jordan, would not contribute sufficiently enough to the recharge of the aquifer to make augmentation, by itself, a viable option.

Question 1. Should water cost us more?

Question 2. Should farmers be forced to change?

Question 3. Why would a farmer drain land and irrigate it?

Question 4. Does Minnesota water law make it easier or harder to deal with conflicts?

Question 5. Can we fill up our underground water supply with stormwater?

Question 6. Do you know how much water your neighbor uses?

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