The Free Press, Mankato, MN

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March 19, 2013

Our View: Water supply threats need attention

— A water shortage scenario seems to be quietly unfolding in southern Minnesota while the state and local governments seem caught off guard when they learn water usage has to be curtailed.

Water is something we in Minnesota have for many years taken for granted. We can't afford to do so anymore. Fairmont was told by the state one early September day last year that it was drawing more water from drought-impacted local lakes than it was allowed and it would have to implement rationing immediately. In Worthington and Marshall, plans call for piping in water at great costs from miles away or buying it from of all places Iowa.

These scenarios would be worthy of a science fiction movie if they weren't so real.

An in-depth report in the St. Paul Pioneer Press detailed these threats to water supplies and pointed to causes that are not only drought related but use related. Water tables are being drawn down. Aquifers are being taxed. Communities have no choice sometimes but to engage in multi-million dollar projects that hit a tax base hard.

The water resource issue is threatening to harm economic development efforts in some communities. Marshall has plans to pipe in water from 23 miles away as its industries demand more water while its supplies dwindle. Worthington had to turn away ethanol plant projects because it didn't have enough water capacity.

In the Mankato area, officials have been monitoring the Mt. Simon aquifer. A November report said that aquifer is possibly being depleted faster than it is being recharged. North Mankato recently approved the drilling of a new well for growing demand.

The biggest threat here is our lack of knowledge on just how depleted water supplies may be.

The DNR reports it needs about 7,000 monitoring wells in the state and so far the Legislature is proposing to fund about 1,600, double the current number, at a cost of about $9.5 million. The DNR argues it would need about $3 million a year for the next 30 years to monitor the 75 percent of the state where no one has any idea how much water is left.

Gathering information would seem to be a priority given the serious nature of the issue.

If the Legislature is looking for money to keep up with aquifer monitoring, it seems the Legacy fund designed to protect Minnesota's natural resources would be an appropriate funding source.

In any case, it's time we stop taking water resources for granted and state elected leaders not only need to invest resources in understanding the threats to our water supply but also plan for a sustainable future.

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