Settlement Addresses White Bear Lake's Dramatic Declining Water Levels and Regional Water Concerns

DNR agrees to protect lake and aquifer

WHITE BEAR LAKE (December 1, 2014) – The White Bear Lake Restoration Association and White Bear Lake Homeowner’s Association today announced that they have settled a two-year lawsuit with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and DNR Commissioner Thomas Landwehr over the dramatic and historic water level decline in White Bear Lake. 

In the settlement, subject to approval by Judge Margaret Marrinan to stay the case, the DNR agrees to support legislative proposals to fund the feasibility, design, and construction of a water supply project to connect the municipalities of Vadnais Heights, White Bear Lake, White Bear Township, Mahtomedi, Shoreview, and North St. Paul to surface water.  The litigation will be dismissed only if and when the surface water system is operational. 

The DNR also will set a protective elevation for White Bear Lake and consider the cumulative impact of its permitting decisions on the Lake.  The DNR will initiate implementation of the North and East Groundwater Management Area plan in 2015 and will work with local communities to achieve increased water conservation.  

The high-profile lawsuit filed in November 2012 in Ramsey County District Court alleged violations of the Minnesota Environmental Rights Act (MERA) and the Public Trust Doctrine, claiming the DNR allowed White Bear Lake’s neighboring cities to pump increased amounts of ground water from the Prairie du Chien-Jordan groundwater aquifers.  The lawsuit followed a 2011 study by the U.S. Geological Survey, which concluded that the lake’s declining water levels correspond with declining water levels in the aquifers.  The study also found that increases in high-capacity groundwater pumping are a likely cause for the declines in the two natural resources.

“This settlement is the first step in restoring White Bear Lake’s invaluable ecosystem and its natural, recreational, scenic and aesthetic value,” said Michael V. Ciresi, partner of Robins, Kaplan, Miller & Ciresi L.L.P., representing the White Bear Lake Restoration Association. “By utilizing a sustainable water source and protecting the lake’s water level, people and businesses in the region of White Bear Lake will have a reliable source of water, while protecting one of our most precious natural resources.”

Over the past decade, White Bear Lake -- one of the largest, deepest and cleanest lakes in the Twin Cities metropolitan area – has exposed lakebed extending hundreds of feet from what was once shoreline.  The record-low water levels have also created ripe conditions for the invasion and increased growth of noxious plant and animal species.  In addition, businesses that rely on recreation have suffered along with homeowners’ property values.  In January 2013, White Bear Lake’s level plummeted to an all-time low of 918.84 feet.

The plaintiffs, the lake association and the homeowner’s association, are Minnesota nonprofit organizations comprised of concerned citizens and business owners dedicated to protecting and restoring White Bear Lake.  The lake association has raised funds to pay expert costs to prove the science behind the USGS report and to show that the DNR permitted ground water withdrawals that were the source of the unnatural decline of the lake.  It has spent over $300,000 on research and studies to support the lawsuit.  All legal fees were provided for free; and no monetary damages were sought.  Instead, the case was always focused on the health of our natural resources.

The lake and homeowner’s associations will both work with their members having wells to encourage conservation as well.  The settlement agreement recognizes that groundwater wells in the two-mile area around White Bear Lake may have the potential of impacting water levels in the lake.  It also recognizes the need for the state to reduce the reliance on groundwater for the cities in the region of White Bear Lake and that the use of surface water (instead of groundwater) should occur in order to provide a sustainable approach to water supply for generations to come.  

“We are extremely pleased by this settlement as it comes at a critical juncture for White Bear Lake and the people that care about its future,” said Greg McNeely, a lake association member and homeowner. “Today represents a new chapter for the lake and for our ongoing efforts to restore and preserve the lake for generations of Minnesotans.”

The law firm of Stinson Leonard Street represents the White Bear Lake Homeowner’s Association.

“All of us who care deeply about White Bear Lake are grateful for this first significant step toward lake restoration,” said James Markoe, a member of the homeowner’s association.  “We are fortunate to be represented by those who understand completely the recreational, environmental and cultural significance of White Bear Lake.”