Legislature may delay water-use changes tied to White Bear Lake ruling

The Minnesota House passed a bill May 8 that might provide relief to some east metro cities that have recently received groundwater restrictions from the Department of Natural Resources.

If also passed in the Minnesota Senate, the bill would put a one-year hold on a court order that requires the DNR to place groundwater restrictions on cities within a five mile radius of White Bear Lake.

The court order was placed on the DNR by Ramsey County Judge Margaret Marrinan following an August 2017 ruling, which holds the DNR responsible for mismanaging water resources around the lake, leading to the lake’s chronic low water conditions. The lawsuit was initiated by the White Bear Lake Restoration Association.

The DNR’s current restrictions include a residential irrigation ban, and it’s requiring cities that use groundwater wells within the radius to provide plans for switching to surface water. Ten cities were affected by the restrictions, including Lake Elmo, Oakdale and North St. Paul. 

The St. Paul Regional Water Service also received restrictions, which could affect the 11 cities that get water from it, including Maplewood. All ten cities and the St. Paul water system filed appeals to the DNR’s conditions in April.

“The bulk of the impact of the judge’s orders fall on the [scores] of residents of the northeast metro area in the Twin Cities,” said Rep. Linda Runbeck, a Republican from Circle Pines and the sponsor of the bill, when it was being discussed May 8 in the House. 

Runbeck went on to say the judge overstepped her role by creating policy, “usurping, really, the legislative and executive branches from their traditional roles.”

The purpose of the bill’s one-year pause is to ensure that those affected by the court order are able to understand the orders and to see what happens with DNR appeals, Runbeck said.

Rep. Peter Fischer voiced his support of the bill. Fischer represents District 43A, which is made up of White Bear Lake, Birchwood Village, Mahtomedi and part of Maplewood. He noted that after reading the entire ruling, he thinks it and the remedies in it were good in general, but because the remedies were so broad, they were “having negative impacts.”

He added that, for example, Lake Elmo, Stillwater and Grant are within the five-mile radius of White Bear Lake and are affected by the judge’s ruling, even though wells in those communities would not affect White Bear Lake because the groundwater in those cities flows towards the St. Croix River.

Opposition voiced by Reps. Jean Wagenius and Matt Dean were mostly focused on how it was not the Legislature’s place to get involved, and that issues with the court order should instead be handled only in appeals from the DNR and communities.

The bill passed on a 74-52 vote. Of those representing the Review coverage area, Rep. Kathy Lohmer from District 39B joined Fischer in voting for the bill; Rep. JoAnn Ward, District 53A, voted against it; and Rep. Leon Lillie, District 43B, did not vote.


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

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