A broad swath of the northeast metro is being drawn into a new state plan to watch over the use of water, based on trend lines warning of big problems in the future.

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) said Thursday that all of Washington and Ramsey counties and parts of Anoka and Hennepin will become part of a “groundwater management area.”

“If we are not careful in how we use water,” DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr warned, “both economic development and ecosystems could be put at risk.”

The northeast metro has drawn attention in recent years as White Bear Lake’s water levels have dipped. The deeper issue, though, the DNR says, is simply that in much of the area, “communities, businesses and agriculture … are entirely reliant on groundwater as a source of water supply.”

The plan demands no immediate change but sets a direction “for managing [water use] more carefully and comprehensively in the years ahead.”

White Bear Lake Mayor Jo Emerson said she’s confident the state isn’t being “real draconian, but offering more of a blueprint.”

It has yet to be determined, she said, what role municipal wells are playing in White Bear Lake’s decline. “There are so many factors: Historically it has gone down at times, it has ebbed and flowed,” long before today’s suburban sprawl.

A key step in the new approach, the DNR plan says, is increased “monitoring and evaluation of groundwater and groundwater-dependent natural resources.”

DNR hydrologist Joe Richter said the agency is following closely the impacts of Woodbury’s 18th and 19th wells, the two newest. There is concern, he said, that No. 18 could negatively affect a prized trout stream.

“There’s no evidence of that yet,” he said, with lots of moisture from the sky, “but given the location and proximity, the DNR believes there is a strong possibility of such impacts in the future and we will be looking for that evidence.”

The new plan can be downloaded online at http://tinyurl.com/nwd4acr.

The report says: “While conditions do not add up to a crisis yet, warning signs are becoming evident. ‘Business as usual’ is no longer an option.”