The Free Press, Mankato, MN

State, national news

April 30, 2014

Pipes lengthen, water costs rise in southwest Minn.

Heavy irrigation in farm country and increasing demand in the Twin Cities have raised recent concern among many Minnesotans about the adequacy of their water supplies.

But in southwestern Minnesota, water scarcity is an old problem, one that at times has been expensive to solve. Now it is getting moreso.

Just this spring, Marshall is laying a $13 million, 27-mile pipe to bring water to its residents and businesses. The small Cottonwood County town of Mountain Lake, where water levels have dropped, plans this summer to spend a half million dollars for a new well and even then might not get the quality it would like. And Worthington and Luverne city officials are hoping to convince the Legislature in coming weeks to spend nearly $70 million to let them bring water from South Dakota.

Some worry that the region’s ability to grow economically is at stake. On the other hand, the sense of water awareness many residents and businesses here have developed over the years may be a lesson for other Minnesotans.

“Never enough, never enough supply,” is how Leonard Swenson sums the issue up. The retired Dawson area farmer spent years and thousands of dollars searching unsuccessfully for adequate water on his farm.

In the 1960s and 1970s he drilled at least five wells that failed to yield anything, each for about a thousand dollars. For more than two decades, he spent about $600 a year to have a delivery man truck in water just for the household.

“He had a thousand-gallon tank on the truck, and he’d drive up. And we’d have to have two loads a month,” Swenson said. “So it was not a good thing at all.”

Swenson eventually was able to hook up to a rural water system that piped a high-quality supply to his farm. But even though better distribution systems have solved some problems, water troubles persist in the region today.

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