East metro cities appeal new DNR restrictions placed on municipal water permits

North St. Paul, Lake Elmo, Oakdale and Maplewood among those affected.

In recent weeks, several cities in the east metro, as well as the St. Paul Regional Water Service, have decided to appeal new conditions put on their water appropriation permits by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. 

The permits regulate how much water the cities and St. Paul system are allowed to draw from the underground aquifer to provide to their communities.

The DNR itself is required to put these new regulations into effect for all municipal wells within a five mile radius of White Bear Lake due to an August 2017 ruling by Ramsey County Judge Margaret Marrinan, which holds the DNR responsible for mismanaging water resources around White Bear Lake. 

The lawsuit regarding lake water levels was initiated by the White Bear Lake Restoration Association.

Cities with wells within the radius include Lake Elmo, Oakdale, North St. Paul, Vadnais Heights, White Bear Lake, White Bear Township, Hugo, Lino Lakes, Mahtomedi and Stillwater. 

The St. Paul water system also has wells within that radius, and according to its assistant general manager, Jim Graupmann, restrictions such as a watering ban could impact all of the communities that get water from the system, including St. Paul, Maplewood, Lauderdale, Falcon Heights, West. St. Paul, Mendota Heights, Lilydale, Mendota, Little Canada, Roseville and Arden Hills.

All of the affected communities, as well as the St. Paul system, independently agreed to appeal the DNR’s permit requirements, an action that had to be decided upon before the end of March.

New regulations recently put on the permits include all the water suppliers submitting a plan to switch from using groundwater to using surface water, putting into effect a residential irrigation ban when the water in White Bear Lake is less than 923.5 feet, submitting a plan to phase down water use, and annually reporting on collaborative efforts to phase down water use.

Leaders from several of the affected communities noted during public meetings that the residential irrigation ban would likely have the greatest impact on residents and would be put in effect almost immediately based on the current White Bear Lake water level, which is just under 923 feet.

“It’s only really been above 923 and a half [feet] a few times in the last 10 years,” Graupmann said.

Community leaders also questioned in public meetings the effectiveness that such a ban would have, considering that the new restrictions do not apply to commercial uses, such as golf courses. Some also noted that the restrictions do not apply to private residential wells.

 

North St. Paul’s

 perspective

When the North St. Paul City Council discussed the permit requirements at its March 20 workshop, council member Jan Walczak questioned why the city should be affected when residents have acted responsibly with water usage and the city has consistently used less water than its allowed amount.

City attorney Soren Mattick said that it doesn’t matter how city officials feel about it because the DNR is required by a court order to impose the new conditions.

He explained there’s a chance the Legislature will step in, but still recommended the council appeal the permit requirements, a process that he suspects would protect the city from the requirements “at least through the Legislative session, if not longer.”

“In my opinion, the prudent thing to do is at least send in the notice of appeal on the appropriation permit, and it puts a hold on things and allows us, along with the DNR and perhaps other communities, to take a look at the best course forward on these appropriation permits,” Mattick said.

At the city council meeting later that same evening, the council unanimously approved pursuing the appeal. 

 

Lake Elmo and beyond

The Lake Elmo City Council also gave its approval March 20 for its city staff to pursue an appeal, only about a week before the city had to stop drawing water from one of its wells due to contamination.

Now the city has two wells in the southern portion of the city that it is unable to use because of perflurochemical contamination.

In a March 28 interview, City Administrator Kristina Handt noted that if Lake Elmo hadn’t appealed the conditions put on its water permit, the city “absolutely” would have had a difficult time compensating for the water usually pulled from its recently decommissioned well.

“That’s the really big challenge that we have is that all of our clean water is in the northern part of the city, which falls within the five mile radius of White Bear Lake,” Handt said, adding, “We hope that the state will pass legislation, so those [regulations] don’t go into effect.”

Graupmann explained that the St. Paul water system is in a different position than the cities that received amended water permits. He said cities in the vicinity of White Bear Lake would be affected directly because they use their wells for their communities’ water, adding that although St. Paul has about 10 wells, a number of which are within the five mile radius of White Bear Lake, it hasn’t used any of the wells in about a year and “has no intention of using them.”

St. Paul instead gets its water from surface water sources, already meeting one of the new requirements of the permit. He explained that about 70 percent of the water it gathers comes from the Mississippi River, which is channeled through a chain of lakes mixing with whatever precipitation and runoff accumulates in the watershed.

“As long as we’re not using the wells we shouldn’t have to use the sprinkling ban,” Graupmann said, adding that the ban “really doesn’t make sense for us.”

Because each of the affected entities agreed to appeal the permit requirements, they are all awaiting case hearings where they will be able to present evidence on why the requirements are unreasonable to their situations. No hearing dates had been set by press time.


 

– Aundrea Kinney can be reached at 651-748-7822 or akinney@lillienews.com

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