The Free Press, Mankato, MN

State, national news

February 27, 2013

Despite drought, Minnesota lets water users exceed limits



But Homuth said the DNR has not assigned an employee to make a yearly assessment of entities that violate water permits.

In only one case did DNR officials alert the permit holder. In 1998, the department notified Green Lake Nursery, of Spicer, Minn., that it had exceed its maximum. However, there's no evidence in the file that the DNR took any further action, and the nursery continued to exceed its water limit for another decade or so, according to DNR water permit pumping data.

According to Minnesota law, exceeding the permitted water limit is a misdemeanor. But Homuth said to his knowledge no one has ever been charged. He said it would cost too much to prosecute.

DNR officials can also modify, restrict or cancel a permit for over-pumping. But there's no evidence in the files that the DNR has taken any of those actions against a water use violator.

Pat Sweeney, research and communications director for the Freshwater Society, a Twin Cities based group that works to protect water resources, said the DNR should at least contact anyone who exceeds their pumping limit to call it to their attention.

"If the DNR invested more time and energy and effort, I think they could clear up some of these problems," Sweeney said.

Over-pumping can cause real world problems.

In at least one case in recent years, over-pumping by a neighbor contributed to a rural well going dry. Last year, with the drought impact growing, well owners filed nearly a dozen more so-called well interference complaints. The DNR has not yet determined if excessive pumping played a role in any of those well disruptions. But a dry well is a big problem, particularly in southwest Minnesota, which has endured drought conditions for the last two years.

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