WHITE BEAR LAKE, Minn. - A judge has ruled the state of Minnesota has violated environmental law as well as the public trust in failing to protect White Bear Lake and its aquifer in a case that has broader implications for future suburban development.
Ramsey County District Judge Margaret Marrinan, in a ruling Wednesday, said the state should have done a better job of managing area ground water wells to protect the lake's water level. She found that the Department of Natural Resources, or DNR, had allowed excessive pumping of the Prairie du Chien aquifer without knowing whether it was sustainable.
"We're ecstatic! We worked with heart," Greg McNeely of the White Bear Lake Restoration Association, told KARE, thanking fellow citizens and the lawyers who donated their time to the cause.
"We’re citizens, we’re volunteers and for the attorneys to come through with the pro bono situation gave us even more spirit to keep going."
The White Bear Lake Restoration Association, and the White Bear Lake Homeowner's Association brought the lawsuit against the DNR after lake levels dropped five feet below normal and the shoreline receded dramatically from 2006 to 2012.
The judge ordered the DNR to stop issuing any more well permits within a five-mile radius of White Bear Lake until it's certain the drawdowns from the lake to the underground aquifer are sustainable.
She also ordered the agency to review municipal pumping of ground water from the aquifer, to detect whether those utilities are relying too heavily on ground water.
Judge Marrinan found that the DNR violated both the Minnesota Environmental Rights Act and the Public Trust Doctrine.
McNeely noted that the lake relies entirely on rain runoff from a relatively small watershed, so in years of low rainfall lake water is sucked into aquifer to replace water being pumped out of it.
"We’ve got a situation where if it keeps sucking water out of the aquifer, and the lake goes into the aquifer that’s a problem and it’s not sustainable," McNeely asserted.
Lake levels have temporarily returned to the normal range as a result of three consecutive years of above-average rainfall levels. But members of the citizens group would prefer to see a pipeline from the Mississippi River that would be used in low rainfall years.
"If we have a ton of rain we’re fine, but as soon as it stops raining this things going to go way down fast!"
The DNR issued a statement issued to this statement to the media:
"Based on our initial reading, we were deeply surprised and disappointed in the Court’s order and its implications for citizens and communities in the area. It will take some time for us to complete our review of the 140-page .opinion and to understand the basis for, and the implications of, the ruling, including any possible next steps.
"The DNR remains committed to the science-based use of its authorities and resources to achieve sustainable water management in the North and East Metro and throughout Minnesota."
The City of White Bear Lake and Town of White Bear Lake were also named defendant-intervenors in the case.