New system for DNR to track water permits

Jim Anderson
Brooten area farmer Jim Anderson climbs one of his many irrigation rigs.
Mark Steil / MPR News

The state Department of Natural Resources has completed a new online water permit system that will cut the time it takes to obtain a state water appropriations permit.

Unchecked irrigation threatens to sap Minnesota groundwater

Most state water permits are issued to farmers for crop irrigation as anyone who uses more than 10,000 gallons of water a day or a million gallons a year must have a permit. The state handles about 10,000 permit applications and transactions a year.

The new system should cut weeks off a process that can take up to six months, DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr said.

"It will make it easier for water users to both apply for permits and do their required reporting -- at the same time reducing our expenses by getting rid of paper work and multiple entries and so on," Landwehr said.

Crop irrigation has boomed in Minnesota in the past few years, increasing land values and raising yields for corn, soybeans and other crops. But hundreds of Minnesota farmers appear to be irrigating cropland without the state permits required to use large volumes of public water.

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Of roughly 1,200 crop irrigation wells drilled from 2008 to 2012, more than 200 likely are operating without a permit, a recent MPR News investigation of public well records found.

In addition, nearly 200 others operated without a permit until the past year or so.

Tom Hovey, water regulations unit supervisor for the DNR, said the online permit system will help keep track of how much water residents and businesses pull from state rivers, lakes and underground aquifers each year.

"The average homeowner doesn't need a permit, but if you're going to appropriate over 10,000 gallons a day or one million a year, a permit has been needed for some years now," Hovey said.