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DNR starting groundwater management project

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The Straight River watershed will be part of a groundwater management program to address increased use over the last two decades and help with future planning.

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The Department of Natural Resources hosted a stakeholder meeting Wednesday, Jan. 15 at Park Rapids Area High School to outline the project and answer questions.

The Straight River Groundwater Management Area encompasses northeast Becker County and southwest Hubbard County and includes the city of Park Rapids.

Jason Moeckel, DNR overall project manager, outlined the groundwater management program, which also has designated areas in the north and east metro and Bonanza Valley.

Groundwater is at risk of overuse and contamination in Minnesota, he said. It’s not equally abundant in all areas of the state and the use has increased 35 percent over the past 25 years.

“We really need stakeholders to be involved in this project to make it work,” Moeckel said.

Park Rapids has been dealing with increased nitrate levels in the water and this project will look at sustaining the use of groundwater in the area for the future.

The DNR’s groundwater management goal is to ensure that use of groundwater is sustainable and does not harm ecosystems, water quality, or the ability of future generations to meet their needs.

The objectives include:

  • All aquifers are within sustainability thresholds for water levels.
  • All appropriators of groundwater have the required permits.
  • All permitted groundwater users employ water conservation practices.
  • All aquifers are without water use conflicts and well interferences.
  • Permitted groundwater appropriations do not adversely impact trout streams, calcareous fens, other groundwater - dependent surface water features, or other groundwater – dependent biological communities.
  •  Permitted groundwater appropriations do not adversely impact water quality.

“Minnesotans use ground-water to meet domestic, industrial, agricultural, private and public water supply needs yet its increasing use over the last two decades may not be sustainable for continued economic growth,” according to the DNR. “Groundwater supply and demand are not the same across the state. In some areas, groundwater is at risk of overuse and contamination.”

According to the draft plan prologue:

“Water is critical to Minnesota’s economies and ecosystems. Minnesota has a well-deserved image of having abundant water resources, nevertheless, water is not evenly distributed across the state. Despite our popular image, water is becoming scarce in parts of Minnesota. Unprecedented water use conflicts are arising between businesses, towns, and residents. Periods of drought have accentuated these issues and provided a ‘wake-up call’ for Minnesota.”

During the 2013 legislative session the risks to the state’s water future were highlighted and discussed. The legislature responded by appropriating $7 million in new general fund to support enhanced water management programs, and an additional $3 million for statewide mapping and establishment of groundwater management areas.

A project advisory team has been formed and includes local stakeholders from the agriculture sector, city of Park Rapids, Hubbard County, Todd Township, DNR, Department of Health and others. This team will meet regularly to work on the project. The meetings will be open to the public.

The entire program will be about a year. Moving forward, the plan will be implemented slowly and adapted, Moeckel said.

Tim Crocker, Straight River project manager, said Straight River was chosen because of increased use of water for irrigated land, the water quality problems and features of the water.

The goal is to focus on sustainability, be transparent, enable more predictability for water users and have more coordination among state agencies and groundwater users.

Kelly Elsner, with Elsner Well Drilling, said he hasn’t ever seen a well go dry in this area. He is concerned about some of the pre-regulations the DNR has implemented that affect well drillers.

For those interested in learning more about the project or becoming involved with the advisory team can contact Crocker at 320-616-2450 x232 or tim.crocker@state.mn.us.

To sign up for regular updates on the project, go to www.dnr.state.mn.us/gwmp/areas.html and select the Straight River groundwater management area. The draft plan can also be found at that site.

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Anna Erickson
Anna Erickson is editor of the Park Rapids Enterprise.
(218) 732-3364
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