Governor’s Water Summit

Mid-January, Governor Dayton announced that his administration will host the Governor’s Water Summit in St. Paul on Saturday, Feb. 27th. Summit registration has closed, but you can still help set the agenda by taking the Governor’s Clean Water Summit Survey .

We’re interested in seeing how the governor’s team structures the day and the topics to be tackled…

– Darrell Gerber


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Road Salt $hortage

Google “salt shortage” and an array of media stories pop up. MPR’s recent report on the looming road salt shortage and increased prices gives a nice take on the issue. Minnesota is leading the nation with technology, education and tools that allow our winter maintenance departments to do more with less. It’s good timing- we need to use less.

The MN Pollution Control Agency just concluded a four year study on the chloride impaired waters in the seven county metro area. Use of road salt in the area’s winter maintenance over the last several decades has taken a toll with 44 water bodies now with chloride readings above the water quality standard. And it’s not just surface water– research from another MPCA study shows that 30% of the metro area’s wells had chloride levels greater than the chronic water-quality standard.

Next month MPCA will release recommendations to reduce chloride pollution to road salt applicators. MNDOT, cities, counties and private contractors will be asked to look at their winter maintenance practices and apply all of the tools and technology available to reduce salt use—while maintaining safe roads. But, citizens also need to take responsibility by having rational expectations and using common sense when it comes to winter driving and sidewalk safety. Here’s what you can do!

Professionals will convene February 5 for Freshwater Society’s 14th Annual Road Salt Symposium sponsored by U of MN LTAP, MPCA, Envirotech Services, Inc., and Liquidow. Registration is now open.

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Who’s Winging it on Groundwater?

Minnesota spends a lot of time agonizing over our water policy and ways to continually make it better.  Our 2013 report on groundwater policy is one such example. It’s not until one sees that California has had next-to-nothing in the way of policies to manage groundwater reserves that you realize there are regions out there just winging it.

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Detroit shuts off water of 100,000 people

Our 2013 report on sustainable use of our groundwater supplies makes several references to having safe accessible sources of water for citizens and industries from power to agriculture. The news and “TedTalks” frequently  bring us stories of people suffering from lack of water.  While Engineers without Borders,  numerous non-profits, and church mission groups dedicate large amounts of time to addressing small water supplies, it still remains a distant, remote topic to Midwesterners. See this article on Detroit:

Governing picks up the storyline about Detroit’s shutting off water to 100,000 residents and notes  a handful of other cities who are using overdue utility bills as a flag to get to households who are in the early stages of fiscal problems.

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Seeing groundwater from space

Our September 18 Moos lecture will take a look at groundwater supplies from space. (Just think how this would have blown our grandparent’s minds…) The topic has made us a little more attentive to other remote sensing methods looking at water. This one comes from the NASA’s Aquarius aboard the delightfully named Satélite de Aplicaciones Científicas .  It measures moisture in the top two inches of soil . It’s year-old data of  low resolution, but still manages to show how much of the upper midwest is a relative oasis compared to lands further west.

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May 8 premiere set for video on White Bear Lake’s decline

A documentary video on the big decline in White Bear Lake’s water level will get its first public airing at 7 p.m. Thursday, May 8.

The video – “Where is the Water in White Bear Lake” —  was directed and produced by Amy Okaya, a resident of White Bear Township. It was funded, in part, by the Ramsey/Washington County Suburban Cable Commission.

“I made this film to stimulate broader public engagement in water issues by presenting the story of White Bear Lake in a more personal way,” Okaya said in a news release announcing the premier of the video.

Gene Merriam, the Freshwater Society’s former president, was interviewed for the video.

The lake’s water level has declined about 4.5 feet since mid-2004. View a Department of Natural Resources graph showing the decline. Research led by the U.S. Geological Survey blamed the decline on municipal pumping from the groundwater aquifer beneath the lake.

Okaya invited White Bear-area residents and other people concerned about the over-use of groundwater and the decline of lakes in the northeast metro area to attend the showing Thursday evening.

The 30-minute video will be shown in the White Bear Country Inn, 4940 Highway 61 in White Bear Lake.

Following the initial public showing, the video will be shown on the Suburban Cable commission’s Channel 15. It also will be available on YouTube.

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MPR: Many irrigators lack required permits

Many Minnesota farmers using groundwater to irrigate their crops have failed to apply for and receive permits that state law requires for high-capacity pumping, Minnesota Public Radio reported on Monday, April 7.

MPR said evidence indicates that more than 200 of the high-capacity irrigation wells drilled between 2008 and 2012 are being used without the required permits. And nearly 200 other wells were used without permits until about the last year.

Under state law, permits, fees and reporting are required for any groundwater use of 10,000 gallons per day or 1 million gallons per year. Irrigation wells routinely pump far more than those amounts.

The MPR report resulted from a year-long investigation that confirmed and expanded on a 2013 Freshwater Society special report titled  “Minnesota’s Groundwater: Is our use sustainable?”

The Freshwater report compared two data bases — one from the Health Department listing irrigation, commercial and industrial wells drilled from 2000 through 2010 and one from the Department of Natural Resources listing wells eventually covered by the required use permits — and concluded that nearly 500 wells might be being used without permits.

That was more than one-fourth of the high-capacity wells drilled during that period.

MPR made the same type of comparison  over a slightly different period and used a slightly different definition of high-capacity wells likely to require water-use permits. Then MPR took the effort a significant step further: It used satellite imagery to link well locations to images of obvious circles left by center-pivot irrigation systems. Those images can be tracked on the MPR website.

When the Freshwater report was issued last spring, the Department of Natural Resources had already begun an effort to improve its enforcement of the permitting requirement. The Legislature in 2013 gave the DNR new funding to continue and significantly expand the effort.

Read the MPR report and view the mapping. Read the Freshwater report, which reported that agricultural irrigation was the second-largest use of Minnesota groundwater and by far the fastest-growing use.

In 2012, the last year for which pumping totals reported to the DNR are currently available, farmers told the agency they used 106.2 billion gallons for irrigation. That was 36 percent of the 293.7 billion gallons in total reported pumping. Public water systems reported using 143.1 billion gallons, or 49 percent of the total.

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DNR seeks groundwater changes

In a new report to the Legislature, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources spells out – in more explicit language than before – shortcomings in the way it permits and regulates groundwater pumping from high-capacity wells. “Our review of water use reports suggests that we are receiving some systematically inaccurate information,” the DNR told lawmakers in the Jan. 15 report.

The report recommends new legislation requiring well owners to install tamper-proof meters and new authority for the DNR to inspect the meters to improve the accuracy of water-use reporting.

Many of the law changes the DNR report says it needs closely parallel recommendations the Freshwater Society made in a report last April. Read the new DNR report, read a Freshwater summary of the report, read Minnesota Public Radio coverage of the DNR report.

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MPR reports on groundwater

Minnesota Public Radio on Wednesday, Jan. 8, begins a time-to-time series of reports on Minnesota groundwater and the challenges to sustainably managing and regulating its use. Environmental reporter Elzabeth Dunbar is leading the project. The first broadcast looks at three new groundwater management areas that the Department of Natural Resources is creating.  MPR is seeking suggestions from Minnesotans about groundwater policies and on how the radio station can report the situation. Offer your input to MPR.

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Freshwater beneath the seas

Huge reserves of groundwater – freshwater captured in aquifers centuries ago and later covered by rising seas – have been found below continental shelves in some of the world’s oceans. The research was published Dec. 5 in the journal Nature. The existence of such aquifers had been known, but new estimates project that the freshwater in those aquifers is 100 times the amount that humans have pumped from the ground since 1900, the lead researcher says. Read about the research in ScienceDaily.

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