The first two weeks of June have been seriously hot and steamy. If you’re not floating in a lake or river, you’re probably hiding inside with the air conditioner blasting. On top of the heat, all of Minnesota is now either “abnormally dry” or in drought conditions. The combination of hot, dry weather spells trouble for our lawns, crops, and municipal water supplies.
Here in Washington County, we get 100% of our drinking water from groundwater – most often from the Prairie du Chien-Jordan aquifer. This same groundwater is also used for irrigation and industry. What this means, in practical terms, is that we use potable drinking water for a whole variety of non-essential uses, including watering lawns, washing cars, and filling backyard swimming pools. As our communities continue to grow, however, there is an increased risk that we will begin to use our groundwater faster than it’s able to replenish.
In 2015, the Metropolitan Council worked with nine cities in Washington County – Bayport, Cottage Grove, Lake Elmo, Newport, Oakdale, Oak Park Heights, Stillwater, St. Paul Park, and Woodbury – to complete a water supply planning study. The goal was to identify and provide cost estimates for potential new municipal water sources to meet future needs. Options included: 1) Reusing water pumped for pollution containment on 3M property in Woodbury and Cottage Grove; 2) Building a water treatment plant on the Mississippi or St. Croix Rivers; 3) Purchasing and piping in water from St. Paul Regional Water Supply; or 4) Drilling new wells to access more groundwater. All of the options are technically possible, but not without major costs to the communities involved.
As part of the study, the Metropolitan Council also determined that the nine communities could reduce non-essential water use by 1.5 billion gallons per year and save approximately $3 million annually by implementing practices such as water-friendly landscaping, efficient irrigation, low flow toilets, faucet aerators, water-efficient appliances, large-scale stormwater reuse projects, and upgrades to commercial and industrial facilities in the county.
According to the University of Minnesota, approximately 20% of all treated drinking water in the Twin Cities metro area is used outdoors, with a majority of this being used on lawns and landscapes. Here are a few suggestions for strategies to reduce your outdoor water use:
- If there are parts of your lawn that you only visit when you are mowing, consider replacing these areas with gardens, shrubs or even native plantings. Go to www.BlueThumb.org to find the best native plants for your yard.
- Or, consider transitioning your lawn to a low-mow or bee-friendly lawn that is more drought-tolerant. Info at www.blue-thumb.org/turfalternatives.
- If you have an automated irrigation system, install a SMART controller or set your system to “manual” mode and turn it on only when you need to water. City of Woodbury estimates that residents save an average of 30,000 gallons of water per year by switching to smart controllers.
- Replace your existing sprinkler heads with pressure-regulated sprinklers that work better with high water pressure to save an additional 23,000-59,000 gallons per year. In addition, check you sprinkler heads regularly to make sure they aren’t broken, leaking, or blocked.