Atlas to map all HC wells, soils
BY Sarah smith
Hubbard County’s irrigation needs are rising steadily with the conversion of idle land to lucrative corn crops.
And with that conversion comes the need for more wells.
Last week the county board voted to participate in a geologic atlas that maps where all the wells are in the county and the soil types they’re located in. An inventory will start this summer and hopefully be completed by the end of the year. Irrigation is a regulated activity.
“Every day I’m getting requests for wells,” said Hubbard County Soil and Water Conservation District director Julie Kingsley. Either a new well permit application comes in or it’s a request to amend the previous well to draw more water, she added.
“We’re getting into sensitive sand aquifers,” she said. “That is an area of concern.”
In part, those requests are coming from the sale of Potlatch property, 1,719 acres into tillable land or other uses since 2009, said Assessor Bob Hansen.
But well requests are keeping pace. In 2011, 180 fields in the county were irrigated. By 2013, 223 fields were watered. In total, 22,973 areas are currently being irrigated.
Hubbard County has around 5,500 wells of which 3,500 are known locations.
But all that running water needs to be monitored, so one well doesn’t draw from another aquifer, or from a protected watershed, Kingsley said.
A geologic atlas will not only locate the wells but the soil types they are located in.
“There are a lot of data gaps and suppositions,” a state official emailed Kingsley in late May.
A geographic atlas will describe the presence of water underground, the direction it flows and the quality of that groundwater.
Once all the wells are located, they’ll be entered into a Geographic Information System, which can lead to further analysis, management and protection of groundwater systems.
The geologic data could help irrigators place new wells and aid the DNR in characterizing the county’s groundwater to determine its sensitivity to pollution, and the availability of that groundwater. It can also help locate nitrates that have been contaminating Hubbard County wells through field fertilization.
Dale Setterholm, associate director of the Minnesota Geologic Survey, is undertaking the County Geologic Atlas. He made a pitch to the board last week.
Essentially, he said he would be mapping the arrangement of earth materials underground and the water around them.
To date he’s done 35 of the state’s 87 counties.
“Is the amount of usage going to cause problems with a neighbor’s well, or lake levels”” he hypothesized as a reason to undertake the study.
Then having the materials available digitally will allow county officials, scholars and non-scholars to develop a wellhead protection plan, required of all public water supply entities.
But those public wells, for national security reasons, are not included in a Geologic Atlas.
Setterholm is operating under a three-year grant to the Minnesota Geological Survey that will allow him to study three additional counties, including Hubbard and Becker counties. Most of the counties already surveyed are the most densely populated, Setterholm told the board.
Drilling a new well is an expensive proposition, he said. Knowing where to drill, and what depth, will lessen the risk of failure and the expense.
“Between tourism and agriculture, the economy of Hubbard County appears to be highly dependent on water,” Setterholm said in an email to Kingsley.
“I assume that the county wants these economic activities to be sustainable, and not something that will end because of lack of water management.”
The $350,000 funding comes from the Environmental and Natural Resource Trust Fund, which are constitutionally designated to such projects, Setterholm noted.
Atlases are typically used to respond to spills, and to remediate contamination,” Setterholm said. “Understanding groundwater systems is essential to managing surface water features.”
The county will be asked to provide some work space and software for the project and possibly some technical support.
The board agreed. A valuable resource is going to be mapped, they mutually decided.