Freshwater recommendations on groundwater sustainability

These are conclusions and recommendations for policy changes that the Freshwater Society made in its 2013 report on groundwater sustainability.

Cover of "Minnesota's Groundwater: Is our use sustainable?"The big decline White Bear Lake experienced in recent years graphically illustrates the impact the pumping of groundwater for all the activities of modern life can have on cherished surface waters.

It is a powerful reminder that – even in Minnesota, the Land of 10,000 Lakes — our groundwater and our lakes, streams and wetlands are limited resources.

This report on groundwater by the Freshwater Society is a significant effort  to inform Minnesotans about the demands on our groundwater resources and on the limitations those resources face. We offer these findings, and make these recommendations, to our fellow citizens and to our policy-makers:

  •  Current levels of groundwater pumping already are unsustainable in some parts of the state. Further increases — beyond the 31 percent increase in permitted and reported pumping that occurred from 1988 through 2011 — could deprive both humans and ecosystems of the water they need to thrive.  We urge all Minnesotans to practice conservation in all their uses of water. We urge policy-makers to set limits on water appropriation permits that will ensure sustainable use.

  •  The Department of Natural Resources’ talk of creating groundwater management areas in parts of the state where groundwater is stressed by over-use or pollution must lead to action, not just discussion. It is important for the Legislature to appropriate money for work on groundwater management area, but lack of an additional appropriation is not sufficient reason for the agency to fail to act.

  •  We urge the Department of Natural Resources to devote significantly more effort to the law requiring permits for water appropriations of 10,000 gallons per day or 1 million gallons per year. Well owners who flout the permitting law get an unfair advantage over their business competitors. Failure to report unpermitted pumping deprives the DNR of data it needs to make informed decisions on water-appropriation requests.

  • The DNR’s ability to enforce the law requiring well owners to obtain permits for groundwater appropriations is hampered by a time-consuming enforcement process that requires misdemeanor prosecution of violators by sometimes-unwilling county attorneys. We urge lawmakers to give the DNR the authority it has sought to impose civil fines against violators.

  •  At present, a Minnesotan who wants to install a high-capacity well is required to notify the Minnesota Health Department of plans to drill the well, then drill the well and install a pump,  and then – later — seek a permit from the DNR to use the well.  The well-owner’s investment of time and money in drilling the well puts pressure on the DNR to approve a permit. We urge the DNR, the Health Department and lawmakers to consider legislation that would require a permit to pump before a high-capacity well is drilled.

  •   As an incentive to conservation and sustainable use of groundwater, we urge lawmakers to consider increasing the Water Use Reporting Fee, as it applies to consumptive uses of water. The current minimum fee of $140 for pumping of up to 50 million gallons is far too low to discourage waste or over-use. We urge public water systems to ratchet up their conservation-pricing schedules to discourage all wasteful and excessive uses of water, including lawn sprinkling.

  •  Gov. Mark Dayton’s 2013 proposal to increase water appropriation fees and to devote the new revenue to significantly increasing groundwater monitoring and research on the interaction between groundwater and lakes, streams and wetlands deserves strong support from citizens and lawmakers.

    We endorse increasing the surcharge on the significantly increased summertime use of water that occurs in most cities. Regardless of the outcome of the governor’s initiative, we urge public water systems to ratchet up their conservation-pricing schedules to discourage all wasteful and excessive uses of water, including lawn sprinkling. Brown lawns in August are a small price to pay for conservation that will protect groundwater for our children and grandchildren.

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