Farmers who need permits to draw large amounts of water for irrigation and livestock can now use a new web-based system from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.  For years, growers needed to apply for water appropriation permits on paper forms if they used 10,000 gallons of water per day or a million gallons per year. Once they had a permit, they needed to send in other forms once a year to report how much water they used and to pay an annual water-use fee, which for many is $140.

All of that can now be done online and is faster, more convenient and more efficient, said DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr, who explained the new system in a teleconference on May 16.

Landwehr estimated that the computerized system will save about $255,000 annually because DNR employees will not need to hand-sort applications and enter water-use data by hand. The DNR processes more than 10,000 water permit applications and transactions each year, he said.

The system also covers cities, businesses and landowners that need permits because they use more than one million gallons of water per year or 10,000 gallons per day. It also applies to individuals and firms that need one-time water-use permits to work in public waters, on jobs such as installing culverts for a river or creek, or replacing a retaining wall near a lake.

 DNR water regulatory unit supervisor Tom Hovey said many of those needing permits once had to submit maps with their applications, but the new website contains a built-in mapping system. The mapping tool contains 60 different data layers, he said, that enable DNR workers to quickly determine if a proposed project or water withdrawl is near sensitive resources such as trout streams, endangered species and infested waters.

Hovey said many farmers have been using the online system since its "soft rollout" in December, and DNR workers have successfully tweaked it since then to make improvements. Permit applicants can track the progress of their applications online and are automatically alerted if they don't need a DNR water permit, he said.

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