Court-ordered measures to restrict water use in the northeast metro have been put on ice for the next year, due to a new state law.
A bill that halts new water restrictions around White Bear Lake was signed by Gov. Mark Dayton on Monday. That gives 11 cities a reprieve from the new measures, which included irrigation bans tied to lake levels and new limits on per capita water use.
“It gives us some time to kind of figure it all out,” Mahtomedi City Administrator Scott Neilson said. “I think that would be helpful.”
The measure comes months after Judge Margaret Marrinan, in a lengthy opinion, found that excessive groundwater pumping was depleting the lake and ordered the Department of Natural Resources to impose new mandates on wells within a 5-mile radius. That affected 44 permit-holders, including 11 cities.
The precise effect of the new state law is unclear, however, since the restrictions were already in limbo when the cities challenged them through an administrative process. The law bars enforcement until July 2019.
Those who pressed for water restrictions around White Bear Lake were disappointed with the new law.
“The current political unrest regarding water policy appears to be driven by cities wanting to protect water enterprises, meaning revenue,” said Greg McNeely, chairman of the White Bear Lake Restoration Association, which filed the lawsuit that resulted in the ruling.
“With that said, the legislators have jumped on board to represent their constituents, well knowing that there are too many straws in the cup.”
Separately, the DNR is appealing the judge’s 2017 ruling and has asked the Court of Appeals to stay Marrinan’s ruling in the meantime.
Among the entities that challenged the new rules was the St. Paul Regional Water Authority, with 400,000 customers, which treats river water but also has some emergency wells within the 5-mile boundary. Cities argue that the restrictions are unfair and would be ineffective.
Neilson said the proposed residential sprinkler ban is problematic.
“It would cost the city more money to enforce such a ban, because we do contract for code enforcement,” Neilson said.
White Bear Lake’s levels have rebounded since the trial, which a United States Geological Survey expert attributed to several years of unusual rain. According to measurements from Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, 2014 to 2016 was the wettest three-year span on record.