Many residents of rural Minnesota have seen the drought shrink the size of the underground aquifer they depend on. Among them is Wade Anderson, whose backyard well -- his only source of water -- has occasionally run dry.
"With a family of five, it's tough to have to worry about getting water," said Anderson, who lives near Worthington, Minn. "There's just not a lot of good options out there."
There's no indication that heavy water use by others has limited Anderson's water supply. But Wagenius said the drought is a good reason why the DNR should more actively enforce water permit limits.
"You want to make sure that someone doesn't use more than their fair share," Wagenius said. "Because if they use more than their fair share, then the neighbor may have to dig a new well -- and new wells and deeper wells are very expensive."
Over-pumping could also accelerate water depletion in underground supplies of water called aquifers. A recent U.S. Geological Survey study said falling aquifer supplies likely caused declining water levels in White Bear Lake. Metropolitan Council water supply planning manager Ali Elhassan said heavy demand has dramatically dropped water levels in that major aquifer under the Twin Cities by about 40 feet in the last 35 years in some locations.
"We are starting seeing trends that are not sustainable," Elhassan said. "And if we continue business as usual, pumping ground water to meet our growth in the future, we'll start seeing even further adverse impacts into our aquifers."
But if DNR is looking the other way on over-pumping, the agency is focused on at least one part of the water permit program: collecting fees from water permit holders. With few exceptions, they pay for the water they pump, and when they exceed their limit, they must pay more. The agency collects about $4 million a year from those fees.