Restoring A Natural Community Resource

At present, White Bear Lake is one of the largest, deepest, and cleanest lakes in the Twin Cities area. Unfortunately, it is now experiencing the lowest water levels ever recorded and the levels consistently continue to decline. Historically, fluctuation in water levels has correlated generally to levels of precipitation. Thus, in periods of low precipitation the lake water level drops and in periods of high precipitation the lake water level rises. Over the last 80 years, there were only two instances when the lake reached levels near where they are today. In both cases, the drop in water level occurred during drought conditions. Over the past decade, water levels have steadily declined despite precipitation levels remaining at or near a 30-year average.

On November 25, 2012 White Bear Lake water levels reached an historic record low of 919.17 feet, which is more than 5 feet below the ordinary high water level of 924.89 feet according to data from the DNR. (See Minnesota DNR White Bear Lake water level report here.)  And thus, White Bear Lake now has many exposed patches of lakebed that look more like swamp land than open waters and recreational beaches. The low water levels have had a negative impact on lake business owners, recreational visitors, and lake home owners. In addition, the beach operated by Ramsey County has been closed since at least 2009 because the water has receeded so far that there are now dangerous drop off zones.

Earlier this year, the United States Geological Survey (USGS), a federal government agency that provides impartial information on the health of ecosystems and the environment, made a presentation to the White Bear Lake Conservation District Board regarding a recent study of White Bear Lake. The USGS examined the potential causes of the water level decline, and completed a study on the interaction between groundwater and surface water in the area around White Bear Lake. This study acknowledged that precipitation levels alone could not account for the current low lake water levels. It concluded that one of the primary causes of the decline is increased high-capacity groundwater pumping.

In an effort to find a natural solution to restore the lake to average levels, the WBLRA has filed a lawsuit against the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) under the Minnesota Environmental Rights Act (MERA). To view the lawsuit, please click here.

Since the filing of the lawsuit, the DNR filed a Motion To Dismiss. The presiding judge ruled to deny the Motion To Dismiss on September 11, 2013. To view the Order, please click here.

The White Bear Lake Restoration Association’s suit against the Minnesota DNR and its Commissioner is progressing.  The parties have now completed the exchange of pretrial discovery, including the reports of experts. In particular,  WBLRA expert Stu Grubb’s analysis of the declining lake level causes has been widely circulated. One of several proposed remedies – direct augmentation with filtered water piped from Vadnais Lake – is currently being discussed at the Legislature.  The WBLRA also submitted an expert report of limnologist Meghan Jacobson detailing the harm to the lake and aquifer caused by the DNR’s actions.  These expert reports are critical to the chances for success of this lawsuit.  The parties to the suit have been engaged in mediation under the direction of former Minnesota Supreme Court Justice James Gilbert. The mediation is ongoing.  Because the potential success of that process is highly uncertain we are preparing the briefs in support of the WBLRA’s motion for summary judgment, scheduled to be argued on May 7th.  We will also be opposing the DNR’s summary judgment motion at that time.  If the case is not resolved by mediation or on summary judgment, the case will go to trial starting on August 18, 2014.