Paul Austin

Paul Austin is the director of Conservation Minnesota, a statewide non-profit. In that role, he gets to hear and share Minnesotan’s stories about our lakes, lands and way of life. Paul’s past lives include election as a small town mayor, serving at the US Agency for International Development, and managing a small marketing firm. He lives in Minneapolis with his wife, two small children and one very large dog.

Minnesota Running Out of Water?

Posted by: Paul Austin Updated: April 24, 2013 - 9:39 AM

While it may be hard to fathom with all this recent snow, Minnesota has a serious groundwater issue.  The images of pontoon boats sitting high and dry on White Bear Lake last summer should have been all the reminder we needed that groundwater is a limited resource and we need to be taking steps now to ensure that we remain the land of 10,000 lakes. 

A recent study by the Freshwater Society of Minnesota looked at the groundwater issues Minnesota is currently facing.  From their research, they came up with a plan for reducing the strain we currently place on our aquifers.  The plan will take some personal responsibility and some political leadership to attain. 

The basic thrust of their report was that we cannot maintain our current trajectory when it comes to water usage and not expect to run out of water in certain places.  Their analysis indicated that the state’s water usage increased 31 percent between 1988 and 2011. To cut that number, we need to start looking at ways each and every one of us can decrease our personal usage, and work with the various levels of government to ensure that where voluntary reductions are not working, mandatory backstops are in place to help protect this valuable resource. 

One way the Freshwater Society proposed getting into a more sustainable water usage pattern was to support DNR initiatives to create groundwater management areas in our most critically threatened areas, and to step up their ability to enforce existing laws that regulate water appropriations that exceed 10,000 gallons a day or a million gallons a year.    Currently enforcement is lacking when it comes to major water appropriations, and even in cases where it occurs, the penalty is a misdemeanor that few county attorneys are excited to prosecute.  The DNR needs to be given the resources it needs to effectively enforce the rules, as well as the power to extend civil fines against those found to be in violation.

Governor Dayton has suggested in his proposed budget that he would like to see additional state dollars dedicated to increasing the monitoring and research of Minnesota’s groundwater as well as lakes, streams and wetlands to see what can be done to preserve our current resources.

As we shovel what will hopefully be the final sloppy wet snow off the season, it is hard to think about our state’s groundwater needs. But since this is when the budget is coming together, this is when we need to be reminding our elected officials that preserving our groundwater needs to be a high priority moving forward. 

 

A copy of the Freshwater Society report is available at www.freshwater.org

 

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