Have you ever lay on a hotel bed in some town, somewhere far away, curled up with stomach cramping, wondering, “Was it the lemonade? Did it come from brushing my teeth?” Have you ever passed an abandoned house in the desert, foundation crumbling and yard overgrown? Have you ever watched women carrying jugs of water on their heads, walking for miles to quench their thirst and that of people they love? We live with water and die without, and yet sometimes it’s easy to forget.
In November, the Minnesota DNR approved a five-year plan for managing groundwater resources in the north and east metro in an area that includes all of Washington and Ramsey Counties, plus portions of Anoka County (southeast) and Hennepin County (east of the Mississippi River). The agency spent two years working with an advisory team of more than 20 stakeholders to develop the plan.
There is cause for concern because Washington County, as well as a few communities in Ramsey and Anoka Counties, is 100% dependent on groundwater for drinking water, irrigation and industrial uses. As the region has grown, there have been more people using more water, and the result has been declining water levels in some portions of the aquifers. It goes without saying that we need water now and in the future; though there is still plenty for us to drink, we are already seeing impacts to some of our lakes, streams and wetlands. Groundwater is the primary water source for Lake Elmo and Lake Edith, as well as Trout Brook, Valley Creek, Brown’s Creek, and the Mill Stream. Many other lakes in the region are considered “flow-through” lakes, with groundwater flowing into some parts and out through others. These include Big and Little Carnelian, Big Marine, Carver, Demontreville, Eagle Point, Forest, Square and White Bear Lakes. Still others – Oneka, Goose, and Long Lakes in northern Washington County and Tanners, Battle and Colby Lakes in southern Washington County – are groundwater recharge lakes that collect and store water that recharges our aquifers.
Unfortunately, water quantity isn’t the only concern within the north and east groundwater management area – there are many places where groundwater is already contaminated due to industry and agriculture, leaving even less of an already precious resource available to us. There is a plume of contaminated groundwater beneath Lake Elmo and Oakdale from VOCs (volatile organic compounds) and PFCs(perfluorochemicals) dumped at an old Washington County landfill near Lake Jane between 1969 and 1975 (the landfill was not lined on the bottom) and at a 3M disposal site in Oakdale. There is additional PFC contamination surrounding 3M disposal sites in Cottage Grove and Woodbury. Two plumes of contamination foul groundwater in Lakeland and Lakeland Shores due to freon, petroleum products and solvents dumped years ago. Portions of Bayport, Baytown and West Lakeland suffer from trichloroethylene (TCE) contamination, suspected to be from a metal working business operating in Lake Elmo in the 1950s and 60s, and portions of Newport and St. Paul Park’s groundwater have been contaminated by spills, leaks and improper disposal at the Ashland Refinery, the former Aero Precision Engineering Company, and the former Park Penta Corporation. Outside of Washington County, a large portion of the aquifer near the former Twin Cities Army Ammunition Plant is polluted with chlorinated solvents. Most recently, testing has shown that 20-30% of the private wells in Cottage Grove and Denmark Twp. have too high of levels of nitrates due to fertilizers leaching from farm fields.
The objectives of the DNR’s groundwater management plan are to identify and embrace water conservation best practices, protect surface waters, preserve water quality, improve appropriations permitting, and protect water availability. To accomplish this, the DNR will work with partners to increase monitoring of groundwater and groundwater-dependent natural resources, develop guidelines for sustainable water use, and improve the process for issuing permits to water users.
Because not much can be done about contaminated groundwater reserves, the DNR, counties, and local communities are focusing much of their efforts on reducing water use in order to preserve the remaining clean, useable aquifers we have. In 2008, the Metropolitan Council projected that total water use in the Twin Cities would increase by 20% by 2030, with the largest increases happening in Woodbury, Hugo, Cottage Grove, Blaine and Forest Lake. The current goal is to reduce residential per capita water use to less than 75 gallons per day. Most cities in the groundwater management area have improved since 2005-2009, but ten are still using too much water per person – Cottage Grove, Forest Lake, Fridley, Lake Elmo, Mahtomedi, Marine on St. Croix, Stillwater, Vadnais Heights, White Bear Twp., and Woodbury.
To help protect our water now and in the future, here are five things you should do:
- Use water wisely outside. Irrigate less or not at all – give your lawn no more than one inch of water per week (less if it rains) and install a rain gauge or soil moisture sensor on automatic systems. Over the long term, swap some of your conventional lawn for low-mow lawn or native plantings than don’t need to be watered or mowed.
- Use water wisely inside. Test for and fix leaky toilets. Install low-flow shower heads and faucet aerators. When it’s time to replace old appliances, chose water efficient models.
- Build less impervious surfaces. Rooftops, driveways and patios keep water from soaking into the ground and replenishing aquifers. If you’re building or remodeling, make a smaller footprint with a skinnier, shorter driveway and porous pavement on pathways and patios.
- If you have a private well, test your water regularly and seal old, abandoned wells. Contact Washington County for more info: 651-430-6655 or PHE@co.washington.mn.us.
- Inspect and replace failing septic systems. Got to co.washington.mn.us/septic or contact Washington County for more info about inspections and financial assistance.
Learn more about the north and east groundwater management area and plan at: www.dnr.state.mn.us/gwmp/area-ne.html.