Water Supply in the Twin Cities Region

Water supply - we're all in this together

The Twin Cities metropolitan area is fortunate to have relatively abundant groundwater and surface water supplies. Three major rivers, vast underground aquifers, and more than 900 lakes in the seven-county metro makes us the envy of urban areas the world over.

Water is vital to the region's present and future prosperity. Every sector of the region’s economy is influenced by water—agriculture, manufacturing, mining, travel and lodging, and services—including health care. When critical water demands are met, health and economic impacts are avoided.

Water is also vital to the region's present and future quality of life. It is key to our image of who we are as Minnesotans and what we want for our children.

photo of a fisherman standing in a river

Region faces several challenges to sustainable water 

Yet our water supplies are not limitless. Population growth, development, localized water shortages, contamination, drought, and the impact of groundwater withdrawal on surface waters are affecting our current and future water supply.

Our rising dependence on groundwater for drinking water, particularly since 1980, has become a significant issue. In parts of the region, groundwater levels are declining. In some cases, it is affecting, or has the potential to affect, lake and wetland levels. Learn more about groundwater supplies in the Twin Cities region here.

We need to diversify our water sources for greater flexibility, so we can better manage rapid growth, extreme weather conditions, and other risks. Like an investment portfolio, we need a combination of water sources and strategiesincluding conservationthat supports our growth objectives, considers costs and time of implementation, and distributes risk.

Planning, sustainable practices needed to preserve our water supply 

Everyone has a responsibility for sustainable water supply planning and management. Individuals, communities, the Metropolitan Council, and the state and federal governments all need to act. Sustainable water management is most successful when these efforts are coordinated.

Metropolitan Council plays critical role. In 2005, the Minnesota Legislature required the Council to create a Twin Cities Metropolitan Area Master Water Supply Plan (Master Plan). Metro area community water supply plans submitted after Dec. 31, 2008, must be consistent with the Master Plan (2013 MN Stat. 103G.291).

photo of a young girl drinking a glass of waterThe Legislature also established the Metropolitan Area Water Supply Advisory Committee to advise the Council on its water supply planning activities, and on developing and updating the Master Plan. Council members, state agency heads, county and city officials, and representatives of water utilities and water conservation districts serve on the committee. 

The Master Plan provides a framework for sustainable long-term water supply planning at the local and regional level. The Master Plan has a single overarching goal: The region’s water supply is sustainable now and in the future.
With the Master Plan, water supply planning becomes an integral part of long-term regional and local comprehensive planning. A strong foundation of accessible technical information, coupled with a set of workable principles, offer decision-makers both the tools and guidance they need to plan and implement sustainable water supply approaches.

In addition to its regional water supply planning, the Council:

  • Convenes sub-regional groups to address more localized supply problems.
  • Conducts groundwater modeling and water supply feasibility assessments.
  • Reviews local water plans.

Private water users and multiple agencies have water responsibilities 

A brief summary of the roles of the primary users and other agencies involved in helping to sustain this region’s water supply follows.

Private water users. Individuals play the most important role in water supply planning. All other plans are developed to serve the needs of people and businesses. Private users need to comply with regulations and stay updated about using best management practices for conserving water and preventing pollution.

Municipalities/public water suppliers. Communities develop and maintain water supply infrastructure, monitor drinking water quality and quantity, develop and enforce water-related ordinances, and develop local comprehensive plans (including a local water supply plan), among other responsibilities. Municipalities and public water suppliers need to plan for water supplies consistent with the Master Plan and agency requirements.

Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. The DNR’s biggest responsibility in water supply is to issue permits for water appropriation. The DNR also collects and analyzes water data, enforces laws, and offers education and technical assistance, among other responsibilities.

Minnesota Department of Health. MDH regulates public water supplies under federal law and state rules and statutes, regulates well construction, and assesses drinking water contaminant risks, among other responsibilities.

Because water supplies do not respect community boundaries, cooperation and collaboration in managing the region’s water supply is essential now and in the future. The Council is committed to working with all parties to ensure a safe and plentiful water supply for generations to come.

The Council and water supply planning.