The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has asked a Ramsey County judge to throw out a lawsuit claiming the agency is at fault for allowing suburban water pumping to shrink White Bear Lake.

The White Bear Lake Restoration Association sued the DNR in November, asserting 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.

But the DNR argued in court Monday that the suit should be thrown out because local municipalities should be included as defendants, said Jan Conlin, attorney for the citizens’ group.

DNR officials argue that the debate over White Bear Lake should be held at the Legislature and at the Metropolitan Council, not in a courtroom. The Legislature is considering at least three bills involving groundwater, including one that deals specifically with White Bear Lake, said DNR spokesman Chris Niskanen.

“This is such an important and critical issue for the metropolitan area,” he said. “It’s a debate that needs to happen in a much larger forum. ... What’s happening at White Bear Lake really underscores what the DNR is seeing all over the state right now. We’re in a very serious drought, and municipalities all across the state are struggling with these water issues.”

DNR officials also said the lawsuit is based on a U.S. Geological Survey study that’s incomplete. “It’s preliminary and some of the assumptions in the study have to be thoroughly reviewed,” Niskanen said.

Judge Margaret Marrinan indicated she would make a decision later on the DNR’s motion. If she throws out the suit, the citizens’ group will appeal, Conlin said.

Likewise, if the judge finds the DNR is not subject to the Minnesota Environmental Rights Act, which gives individuals the right to sue to establish environmental protections, the citizens’ group would appeal, Conlin said.

White Bear Lake has dropped more than 5 feet since 2003 to a record low on Jan. 10.

It rose 6 inches by Feb. 28, but that level was still more than 6 feet below the lake’s long-term average level and 7 feet below the record high set June 20, 1943.

Bill McAuliffe