There is an Old West cattlemen saying that whiskey is for drinking and water is for fighting over.
For Minnesota, so rich in lakes and rivers, the thought of fighting over limited water supplies seemed foreign. Not any more.
The Department of Natural Resources is planning to change its approach to approving new wells in light of limited groundwater and spiraling usage.
Some cities draw water from rivers, but 75 percent of the state’s water usage comes from wells tapped into underground aquifers. Officials know that at least some of those aquifers are being drawn down much faster than they can be replenished by rains and melting snow that eventually seep into them.
And the unseen problem underground sometimes causes problems on the surface. The extreme low water levels on White Bear Lake and some other lakes were caused, at least in part, by low water tables in the area.
One problem being addressed by the DNR is determining just what condition aquifers are in. While some data exist, the state really doesn’t have a firm understanding of how low many aquifers are and how much can be drawn from them without endangering future needs. The state is stepping up its study of water supplies and the DNR has begun some pilot projects in the northeast metro where water usage is looked at for a large region.
Looking at groundwater management for larger areas is greatly needed. The DNR reviews applications for new wells from large users on a case-by-case basis without looking at how additional water usage will affect area aquifers.
The change in approach has some cities, businesses and farmers concerned. Cities and businesses worry potential growth could be stymied if new well permits are more restricted. And farmers are increasingly turning to irrigation systems to water their crops.