DNR to appeal ruling on White Bear Lake over-pumping

Receding water levels
Docks extend into White Bear Lake, where water levels have steadily decreased, seen in September 2011.
Jeffrey Thompson | MPR News file

Updated: 8:45 p.m. | Posted: 4:54 p.m.

The Department of Natural Resources said Tuesday it will appeal a judge's ruling over its management of White Bear Lake.

Last month Ramsey County Judge Margaret Marrinan ordered the DNR to review all existing well permits within five miles of the lake, stop issuing new permits, and ban lawn watering if White Bear Lake falls below 923.5 feet above sea level.

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Her ruling stems from a lawsuit residents filed in 2013, when the lake hit a record low. The plaintiffs argued the DNR allowed too much water to be pumped from an aquifer connected to the lake.

Marrinan agreed, saying the DNR knew as early as 1998 that the use of ground water in the northeast metro was not sustainable, but continued to allow over-pumping.

In announcing plans to appeal, the DNR said the ruling "is not rooted in the best available science," puts "unnecessary burdens" on more than a half million residents, and stalls road and utility improvements, business growth, and residential construction. The agency said the ruling could invalidate temporary water permits: "In the last five years alone, 31 construction projects within 5 miles of the lake required such a permit."

The agency said its data show the lake has fallen below 923.5 feet in 48 of the past 58 years, meaning expansive watering restrictions would have been in place for the last decade had the court's ruling already been in effect.

The DNR said Marrinan's order would likely set a new statewide precedent that would impose similar restrictions elsewhere in Minnesota.

In a statement late Tuesday, plaintiffs' attorney Katie Crosby Lehmann said it's disappointing that after years of litigation and missed opportunities, "the DNR continues to engage in further delay tactics rather than do its job."

Lehmann said the court's opinion goes into extreme detail on the science of the case and details the DNR's "willful disregard of the law and science."

The DNR said it intends to file the appeal by October 30 and work with permit holders "to implement some elements of the ruling" as the case works its way through the courts.