Judge Orders Minnesota DNR to Take Specific Action to Protect Water Levels of White Bear Lake

August 31, 2017

In March 2017, a Ramsey Country District Court ruled in favor of Robins Kaplan’s clients—White Bear Lake Restoration Association and White Bear Lake Homeowner’s Association—in a highly publicized lawsuit regarding the declining water levels of White Bear Lake. The court found that the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) had failed to protect the popular lake and its users by mismanaging groundwater pumping permits in the area. 

An opinion issued by the Honorable Margaret M. Marrinan of the Ramsey County District Court on August 30, 2017 reaffirmed the court’s opinion and set forth specific actions that must be taken by the DNR to ensure sustainable water for all citizens and businesses drawing water from the Prairie du Chien-Jordan Aquifer (the aquifer) that helps sustain water levels in the lake.

The court has ordered the following actions:

  • The DNR cannot issue any new groundwater permits or increase existing permits. They must review all existing permits within a five mile radius of White Bear Lake to ensure sustainability, and downsize permits within six months if water levels are deemed unsustainable.
  • The DNR must set a collection annual withdrawal limit for White Bear Lake
  • The DNR must set a trigger to enforce a Protective Elevation of 923.5 feet above sea level.
  • The DNR must implement and enforce a residential watering ban when White Bear Lake drops below 923.5 feet.
  • All existing permits must have a plan to phase down to a per capita residential water use of 75 gallons per day, and a total per capita water use of 90 gallons per day.
  • All permits must be amended to have a contingency plan for conversion to total or partial supply of surface water.
  • All permittees must report annually to the DNR, and work in collaboration with the organization on water plans.
  • The DNR cannot issue groundwater appropriation permits unless it has sufficient hydrologic data to understand the impact of the permits on White Bear Lake and the aquifer.
  • The DNR must work with the Met Council on conservation goals, and must require water supply plans include measurable conservation goals. The agency is also required to measure compliance to these goals.

The court also states that if the DNR is out of compliance with the court order, it must pay $1,000 per day. Plaintiff’s costs for the lawsuit will also be covered by the DNR.

The case was handled pro bono by Richard Allyn of Robins Kaplan, Katie Crosby Lehmann and Heather McElroy of Ciresi Conlin, and Byron Starns and Daniel Scott of Stinson Leonard Street. 

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