White Bear Lake's sudden shrinkage: DNR sued by group demanding less water pumping

Just a few years ago, this was a White Bear Lake beach. Now it's a wasteland.
Just a few years ago, this was a White Bear Lake beach. Now it's a wasteland.

Yesterday, the DNR was sued by a citizens' group calling itself the White Bear Lake Restoration Association. With the lake dramatically shrinking over the last decade or so, the group is demanding the DNR limit the amount of water cities can pump from the aquifer beneath it.

SEE ALSO: White Bear Lake neighbor from hell is a Met Council executive assistant

White Bear Lake's water level dropped more than five feet between early 2003 and late 2010, the Star Tribune reports. It rose slightly last year, but is once again at a record low, leaving brown patches of land where lake used to be.

"A recent study by the United States Geological Survey concluded that the lake's decline corresponds with declining water levels in the Prairie du Chien-Jordan groundwater aquifer in that area, to which the lake is connected," a press release distributed by the citizens' group says. "Increases in high-capacity groundwater pumping are a likely cause for declines in both natural resources, the study found."

The Strib details how the decline has affected shoreline property owners and those who enjoy (or used to enjoy) using White Bear Lake for recreation activities:

The shrinkage has caused lakeshore residents to haul their docks and boat lifts, some of which are now hundreds of yards from the previous shore, to reach water. Some residents have even obtained permits from the DNR to mow the plants growing from the sandy lake bottom, which has now become a sort of extended front yard.

Receding water levels have reduced fishing, boating and swimming opportunities, and closed a Ramsey County beach since 2009, the suit says. The shrinkage has "diminished the lake's value as an irreplaceable recreational historical, culture, scenic and aesthetic asset," the lawsuit says. It has also hurt businesses and property values and set up conditions that could encourage invasive and harmful plant and animal species, the suit states.

More information about what the citizens' group is demanding and about why the DNR is involved in the first place is provided by the Pioneer Press:

The lawsuit asks the court to declare the DNR and the commissioner in violation of MERA and force the agency to restore the lake to a "protected elevation" of 923.5 feet, or roughly 4 feet above its current level. It also asks the court to set a protected elevation for the underlying aquifer and prevent the DNR and other agencies from issuing pumping permits that would drop the lake and aquifer below the protected elevations.

The lawsuit notes that since 1980, because of the DNR's approval of municipal water appropriation permits, "annual groundwater withdrawals by high-capacity wells near White Bear Lake more than doubled to a peak of nearly 6 billion gallons" in 2008.

As of yesterday evening, DNR representatives hadn't yet publicly commented on the lawsuit.

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