Beneath the surface
Minnesota's pending groundwater challenge

Even in the land of 10,000 lakes, water is no longer unlimited. Lakes shrink, groundwater drops, wells go dry or get contaminated. Some cities have to look harder for good municipal water or pay more to treat it. Twenty years ago these were isolated problems. But three-quarters of Minnesota’s residents get their water from aquifer-tapping wells, and today parts of the state seem to be on a path that is not sustainable.

In the Twin Cities, a tussle is growing over whether growing suburbs should shift from tapping wells to pulling water from the Mississippi River. Elsewhere, Park Rapids, Marshall and other cities have had to spend millions of dollars to respond to dropping water levels or contamination. The state has mapped "areas of concern," and an ambitious plan to test 70,000 wells is renewing questions about how much farmers should be required to do to limit nitrate contamination in groundwater.

In coming months, this Ground Level project, "Beneath the Surface," will shine a light on the pressures on Minnesota’s groundwater and how residents, businesses and officials are being asked to adapt.


  1. Dave Peters, Ground Level editor, and Tom Weber, Daily Circuit host, discuss the impact of changes to water around Minnesota and how solutions are being approached.
    February 17, 2014

  1. Even in Minnesota, water is under stress

    Jason Moeckel and Bruce Montgomery discuss water on the Daily Circuit
    February 21, 2014

Water Q & A

Can we use grass that needs less water?

Why not just fill up White Bear Lake from one of the rivers?

Do you know how much water your neighbor uses?

Can we fill up our underground water supply with stormwater?

Does Minnesota water law make it easier or harder to deal with conflicts?

Why would a farmer drain land and irrigate it?

From the blog

Drinking from a limestone quarry in Burnsville and Savage

What would you do with $1 million to spend on water?

5 facts every Minnesotan should know about groundwater based irrigation

Read all "Beneath the Surface" posts

A visual primer

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Minnesota groundwater
Bedrock water
Glacial deposits
It's complex
Six provinces
Some levels dropping
Future levels
Contamination complications
More testing

To help you understand more about Minnesota and its groundwater, check out these links. If you know something that should be included, let us know by sending an email.

"Minnesota’s Groundwater: Is our use sustainable?"[PDF] April 2013 report by the Freshwater Society.

"Groundwater Management Program." October 2013 strategic plan draft by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

"Groundwater and the Mt. Simon Aquifer," a YouTube video primer by the Minnesota DNR on an important Twin Cities water source.

"Groundwater and the Mt. Simon Aquifer," Part 2.

Minnesota's groundwater provinces, an explanation by the Minnesota DNR.

"Minnesota Nitrogen Fertilizer Management Plan," an August 2013 draft of a plan by the Minnesota Department of Agriculture to deal with farm-caused nitrate contamination of groundwater.

A description of underground aquifers in the four-state area. U.S. Geological Survey.

Minnesota groundwater basics. [PDF] Minnesota Geological Survey.

"Condition of Minnesota’s Groundwater, 2007-2011," an August 2013 report by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.

(PDF) Clean Water Fund Performance Report, measures of water quality, including groundwater.

Support for Ground Level is provided by the Bush Foundation
Bush Foundation