Restoring the balance between water use and lake levels in several northeast metro lakes, primarily White Bear Lake, will require several complementary strategies.
Immediately, residents and businesses are being encouraged to conserve water. In addition, the cities around White Bear Lake could, during the summer months, pump a larger share of water from wells drilled into the Mt. Simon-Hinckley aquifer. This aquifer is deeper than the Prairie du Chien/Jordan aquifer, which is the primary source for drinking water in the northeast metro and is connected to the lake.
White Bear Lake is currently about five feet below its historical average, exposing tens of yards of former lake bottom along much of the shoreline. Increases in groundwater pumping due to population growth is suspected to be one cause of the decline. White Bear is one of several lakes in the area, albeit the most used and well known, to experience a drop in level.
Over the next year, the Metropolitan Council will guide a feasibility analysis of several longer-term solutions to restoring the balance between groundwater use and lake levels in the northeast metro. The engineering study will evaluate the technical and financial feasibility of:
Augmenting White Bear Lake with surface water from St. Paul Regional Water Services
Augmenting White Bear Lake with local discharge water
Maximizing the efficiency of well use
Converting the northeast metro’s water source from groundwater to surface water
In addition, the Council will lead a study of water supply reliability and sustainability across the region. The Council’s latest water supply analysis shows that the region’s increasing reliance on groundwater is not sustainable.
The 2013 legislature appropriated $2 million in Clean Water Legacy monies to fund the studies. An interim report will be delivered to the legislature in January 2014. The legislature also gave $537,000 to the Council to hire United States Geological Survey (USGS) for the second phase of a study of the interaction between groundwater and surface water in the northeast metro.
Lake area residents and elected officials learned more about potential solutions and upcoming studies on June 10 at Century College during the second of a series of three informational sessions titled “Our Water, Our Future: Resources in the Northeast Metro.”
Looking west for help to St. Paul Regional Water Services
Two of the longer-term solutions to the northeast metro’s water problems involve St. Paul Regional Water Services, a utility that supplies drinking water to 417,000 residents in St. Paul and several surrounding suburbs. The source water for this system comes primarily from four lakes: Vadnais, Sucker, Pleasant and Charley. This supply is largely augmented by water from the Mississippi River and by about 10% groundwater.
The system has appropriation permits for 30 billion gallons per year of surface water, but in 2012 used only 15 billion gallons, according to Jim Graupmann, Production Division Manager for the utility. The system’s treatment plant at McCarrons Lake has an excess capacity of 30 million gallons per day (mgd), or more than 10.9 billion gallons a year.
Demand for water from the utility peaked at 58 mgd in 1988, and has declined by about 25% since then. Increasing conservation coupled with a cultural shift away from extensive lawn watering is largely responsible for the decline, Graupmann said. He assured residents that the utility has adequate supplies to help the northeast metro. “If we can help out, we’d really like to do that,” he said.
Optimizing groundwater pumping to reduce its effect on lake levels
The USGS recently conducted a study for the White Bear Lake Conservation District that indicated a connection between lake levels and local aquifers. Lake water is mixing with groundwater in the Prairie du Chien/Jordan aquifer, pointing toward the possibility that an increase in groundwater withdrawals from the aquifer can increase the lake water outflow, potentially reducing lake water levels.
In the second phase of the study, the USGS and Council will lead a multi-partner effort to determine how pumping can be changed and optimized among the many wells serving the northeast metro to meet water demand while minimizing the impact on lake levels. Results of the second phase study are expected in 2016.
At the end of the forum, Council Water Supply Planning Manager Ali Elhassan assured residents that the Council “shares the urgency of this issue with the community.” He said the partners will work very hard to get reliable results so that the communities can choose the best solutions.
The third forum in the series will be held Tuesday, July 16 at Century College. The focus will be water conservation.