Mississippi River could be used to fill lowering Minn. lake

Published 8:20 am Monday, September 2, 2013

MINNEAPOLIS  — Minnesota officials are considering a plan to divert water from the Mississippi River into White Bear Lake, which has lost about one-fourth of its water over the past decade.

At issue is how much such a plan would cost, and who would pay for it.

The state Legislature has provided $2 million in Clean Water Legacy funds to allow the Metropolitan Council to study whether the proposal is feasible. Lawmakers provide another $537,000 to cover the U.S. Geological Survey’s continued study of the interaction of groundwater and surface water in the northeast metro.

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“We don’t want to have another White Bear Lake in the metropolitan area,” said Ali Elhassan, the council’s water-supply planning manager. He added that White Bear Lake isn’t the only shrinking body of water, but it’s the largest.

The initial study will focus on the option of piping water from the Mississippi into St. Paul’s regional water system. St. Paul uses surface water for its supply, while White Bear Lake is fed by groundwater from a massive aquifer. Strains on the aquifer have been blamed for the receding lake levels.

Elhassan said the engineering for the piping option is feasible, but it’s not clear how much the plan would cost. One issue involves screening out invasive species in the river.

The Metropolitan Council is scheduled to report its initial study findings to the Legislature in January.

One environmental group said whatever solution is proposed should address the causes of water shortages, not the symptoms. Whitney Clark, the executive director of Friends of the Mississippi River, said the problem with White Bear Lake is unsustainable groundwater use.

“When you’re using water faster than the aquifer can replenish itself, that’s a serious problem,” she said.

Local residents have already begun doing their part. The White Bear Area Chamber of Commerce has launched a water-conservation program that is already producing results, said Scott Mueller, the chairman of the chamber’s board of directors. His own funeral-home business was able to reduce water consumption 44 percent by taking simple steps, he said.

“Over the past couple of years the conversation in White Bear Lake has changed,” Mueller said. “It used to be viewed as just a home-on-the-lake kind of issue. But people are realizing it’s not just about the people who live on the lake, it’s not just the business community — it’s about all of us. It’s all interwoven.”