A Ramsey County judge has denied a request by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources to dismiss a lawsuit by White Bear Lake residents who claim the agency is at fault for allowing water level in the lake to plummet.
The White Bear Lake Restoration Association sued the DNR in November, saying the agency has violated state environmental standards by allowing communities around White Bear Lake to double their withdrawals of water from the aquifer beneath the lake since 2000.
The association asserted that these water appropriation decisions had lowered the levels of the lake and the Jordan/Prairie du Chien aquifer, a large underground sea embedded among rock and sand that feeds the lake groundwater and serves as the city's water source.
In a court order filed Wednesday, Ramsey County District Judge Margaret Marrinan concluded that the suit should proceed.
Marrinan challenged the DNR's argument that the suit should be thrown out because local municipalities should be included as defendants, saying that if municipalities were assumed to be necessary, then the proper thing to do would be for the court to order them to join the case, not to dismiss the case entirely. None of the municipalities have tried to join or intervene in the case.
"Defendants miss the point: Plaintiff's complaint does not target the conduct of 'persons' — here, the municipalities — operating under a DNR permit. Plaintiff's focus is upon the DNR's responsibility as the gatekeeper," wrote Marrinan. "The DNR has the exclusive powers to issue, modify or terminate these water withdrawal permits. Its failure to protect the lake and aquifer by issuing excessive withdrawal permits that allow for significant increases in water appropriations is the essence of Plaintiff's complaint."
Marrinan concluded that the association's complaint — and claim for relief under the Minnesota Environmental Rights Act, which gives residents the right to sue to establish environmental protections — was consistent with the law.