DNR forcing North St. Paul to submit surface water plan

Aundrea Kinney/Review • North St. Paul must submit to the DNR a plan to convert the city’s water supply system from relying on groundwater to utilizing surface water. City Manager Craig Waldron noted at the April 2 city council meeting that this does not necessarily mean the city will actually be implementing the plan.

The North St. Paul City Council learned at its April 2 meeting that it will still need to submit to the Department of Natural Resources a plan for switching the city’s water supply from groundwater to surface water, despite recently filing an appeal of conditions put on North St. Paul’s water appropriation permit.

City Manager Craig Waldron explained that the appeal for the surface water plan had to be submitted earlier than the late March deadline required to appeal the other DNR conditions. Because the city did not meet the deadline, that part of the city’s appeal was denied.

The water appropriation permit regulates how much water North St. Paul is allowed to draw from the underground aquifer to provide for the community. City staff explained during a March 20 workshop that North St. Paul has never needed to draw as much water as its permit has allowed, and the permit has never before included restrictions.

In addition to the requirement for North St. Paul to submit a plan for switching to surface water, the DNR’s permit requires the city to put into effect a residential watering ban almost immediately, submit a plan to phase down water use and to annually report on collaborative efforts to phase down water use.

Because the city filed an appeal to these requirements before the end of March, it does not need to immediately act on them, except for the surface water plan, until the case is evaluated in court. 


DNR forced to set regulations

The DNR was ordered to put regulations into effect for all municipal wells within a five-mile radius of White Bear Lake due to an August 2017 ruling by Ramsey County Judge Margaret Marrinan, which holds the DNR responsible for mismanaging water resources around White Bear Lake.

The DNR tried to halt the legal process with a number of post-trial motions, which were denied by the court March 29.

“The DNR went back in and asked the judge to stay the whole thing until we could work through some of this stuff, and it was ‘absolutely not,’” Waldron explained. “The DNR has to continue to go ahead and aggressively implement this.”

A March 30 statement from DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr noted disappointment with the post-trial ruling, and said the DNR is reviewing the ruling and determining next steps.

“Responsible, effective water management must be based on sound science and balance the needs of all Minnesota residents and businesses,” Landwehr said. “Toward that end, we are nearing completion of a refined groundwater model for the White Bear Lake area. That model indicates the court’s residential irrigation ban would do little to raise lake levels.”

The Legislature is also working to create laws in favor of the DNR and cities affected by the court’s mandates, but it’s unclear which government branch will have the final say.

Said Waldron, “Hopefully ... some of that legislation does go through.”


Next steps for North St. Paul

North St. Paul’s appeals hearing for the other three restrictions had not been set by press time, but the surface water plan must be submitted to the DNR by Aug. 29.

Waldron commented that coming up with a suface water plan could be a multi-million dollar project, but council member Tom Sonnek pointed out that the DNR requirement also does not specify that North St. Paul needs to pay for an expensive study to formulate this plan.

Waldron also added that the city does not necessarily need to implement the plan either.

“We are still alive on the other three issues, but that one — converting to surface water — is really difficult,” Waldron said. “It’s one of those ones that keeps me up at night.”


– Aundrea Kinney can be reached at 651-748-7822 or akinney@lillienews.com

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