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Appeals court delivers blow to those concerned about low water in White Bear Lake

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White Bear Lake
The Minnesota Court of Appeals has overturned a ruling that the Department of Natural Resources violated the Minnesota Environmental Rights Act in managing groundwater pumping permits.
Caroline Yang for MPR

The Minnesota Court of Appeals has overturned a ruling that the Department of Natural Resources violated the Minnesota Environmental Rights Act in managing groundwater pumping permits.

Parties concerned about White Bear Lake's low water levels had accused the DNR of failing to properly manage groundwater pumping. They won in Ramsey County District Court, where Judge Margaret Marrinan ruled in 2017 that the DNR had to take steps to cut groundwater use, better police permitted wells and come up with alternate sources of municipal water to keep the lake from dropping precipitously. But the appeals court ruled they must challenge each pumping permit individually and leave it up to the DNR to hear and decide each challenge.

"The Appeals Court majority decision turned MERA law on its head and granted immunity for a government agency to violate the law," said Katie Crosby Lehmann, an attorney representing the White Bear Lake Restoration Association, one of the groups fighting the DNR.

Lehmann said her side will likely ask the Minnesota Supreme Court to take up the issue. She said if the appeals court ruling stands, groups like hers would lose the ability to hold agencies like the DNR accountable.

"So, if the Court of Appeals is right, that means than an agency can violate the law with no repercussions," Lehmann said.

Last year, following the district court decision, the DNR released a study of groundwater use showing residential irrigation and other groundwater uses have minimal long term impact on White Bear Lake's level.