Summer 2013 Director's Corner

 

The Silver Lining of White Bear Lake

The past year has seen a remarkable rise in interest in our state's groundwater resources. One of the reasons is the cautionary tale of White Bear Lake, whose water level has dropped six feet over the last decade. A thorough study of groundwater movement in the White Bear Lake area by the USGS revealed that the lake drains to underlying aquifers. Drawdown of the Prairie du Chien - Jordan aquifer complex by increased pumping by an expanding suburban population is the main contributor to the drop in the lake levels. White Bear Lake is iconic, one of the largest and deepest in the Metro area and heavily used for recreation. It's visibility and value brought the concept of surface water and groundwater connections to the public, and it is now clear that White Bear Lake is not alone - sixteen other communities and their surrounding areas in the Metro and around the state are experiencing similar drawdowns of their groundwater due to over pumping.

White Bear Lake Iron StainThe inflowing groundwater has abundant iron and little oxygen before it enters the lake.
As the groundwater flows into the lake, the water becomes oxidized, and iron precipitates
out of the water, forming the iron stains seen above near the shoreline.
Photo credit: Perry Jones USGS

The Freshwater Society and the Met Council recently issued informative reports for the public on groundwater. The DNR just named its first Groundwater Management Area. The Legislature's actions this session demonstrated their understanding of this problem - both the House and Senate had informational hearings on groundwater sustainability, and several statute changes and the appropriations of the Clean Water Fund (see Legislative Update) reflect this interest. The 2011 Minnesota Water Sustainability Framework placed the need for abundant clean water at the top of the list of the Ten Big Issues to address, and it is gratifying to see that the public and decision makers are recognizing that surface water and ground water are all part of one system, one hydrosphere.

It is gratifying to see people taking steps to understand groundwater and surface water interactions, so that all water can be managed sustainably. And it is gratifying to see that, as part of the sustainability conversation, people are talking seriously of conservation, price incentives, and water reclamation strategies. Minnesotans are no longer taking their water for granted; they are taking stewardship.

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