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Washington County reviews groundwater management plan

Washington County held a public hearing last Tuesday that continued through this week giving the public and commissioners a chance to comment on a 10-year groundwater management plan.

Washington County is the only metro county that has adopted a groundwater management plan under a state law. The proposed 2014-2024 plan explains issues pertaining to contamination and water supply.

With groundwater being the “most vulnerable natural resource” which provides 100 percent of drinking water in the county, the goal is to manage the quality and quantity of groundwater to protect public health and ensure sufficient supply of clean water, the plan states.

As population increases, drinking water quality and quantity is compromised, said Jessica Collin-Pilarski, senior planner with public health.

Last week’s hearing drew no comments from the public, but was continued this week to give Commissioners Lisa Weik and Autumn Lehrke, who were away at a conference, opportunities to respond.

The plan is meant to outline the physical nature of groundwater resources, discuss issues that threaten groundwater and provide strategies on how to protect future groundwater.

The plan gets updated every 10 years, with this one focusing more on educating the public, Weik said in an interview last week.

“Instead of going at it from the regulation point of view, it’s more collaboration,” she said. “Especially if you can get education out there for all the stakeholders; it’s homeowners, it’s residents, business owners, farmers.”

The report highlights big picture items that maybe not everyone is aware of, Weik said, especially the fact that surface water and groundwater are closely connected.

“If people start to understand that that will be a huge benefit, and people will start to think differently about how they’re using water,” she said.

According to the plan document, the role of groundwater and the health of lakes and aquifers is important, but often not well understood.

Two studies have been completed since the last adopted plan in 2003 that provide an overview of groundwater and surface water interaction.

Some of the lakes in the county are “recharge lakes” while others are “discharge lakes.”

The plan says many lakes are positioned above bedrock valleys that provide a steady source of water recharge to the aquifers and therefore lake quality can have an impact on groundwater and drinking water quality.

In the southern part of the county, Battle and Colby lakes are examples of recharge lakes.

Discharge lakes, on the other hand, are dependent on groundwater discharge from springs. Some lakes in the county receive relatively high levels of spring flow and some only get moderate input.

White Bear Lake has been one primary example of how groundwater could have a major impact on surface water levels.

“The streams are drying up, the trout streams are at historic lows,” Weik said. “White Bear Lake is shrinking. Residents are calling saying pumps, wells on their property don’t have the pressure that they used to have.

“These are all tangible things that we can measure that make it really necessary to have a different approach with this 10-year plan.”

The plan lays out strategies to respond to some of the issues in a coordinated effort with other state-wide agencies.

A database, with information from the Department of Natural Resources and the Metropolitan Council, includes determining how groundwater interacts regionally, alternative drinking supplies such as deeper wells and surface water and develops water reuse incentive programs.

“Maybe there should be things like rain sensors required,” Weik said.

Much of the water supply in Washington County is also prone to contamination, which needs to be addressed, she added.

“We have to be careful about land use and management so that we cut down on the risk of contaminating the aquifer,” she said.

The county will soon submit the plan for review by the Metropolitan Council and state agencies. The Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources (BWSR) will have final review and approval authority. The county must adopt the plan and implement it within 120 days of BWSR approval.