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.
This Ground Level project, "Beneath the Surface," shines a light on the pressures on Minnesota’s groundwater and how residents, businesses and officials are being asked to adapt.
Minnesota Department of Health officials are in the midst of testing and retesting hundreds of private wells for arsenic, in order to better measure and reduce the effects of the carcinogen. They estimate 10 percent of the state's 450,000 private wells have levels of the naturally occurring arsenic that exceed federal standards.
A new project measures precise shifts in weather and soil moisture to help central Minnesota irrigators try to limit groundwater contamination.
Treated sewage water is getting used again in a few places, watering golf courses, washing trucks and sweeping streets. The economics in a water-rich state make for slow change, but those who have tried it think it could be a way of the future.
Lawn watering is one of the biggest uses of groundwater in Minnesota, but a combination of technology, pricing and attitude change suggests that residents may be starting to change their behavior.
Minnesotans are spending millions of dollars to deal with nitrate contamination in their water, and the state agriculture department says it's time to insist that farmers do more to prevent the problem.
One of the first places Minnesotans are starting to find ways to reuse water is on the golf course. Two Twin Cities suburbs have launched projects to capture stormwater and use it for irrigation.
Special report from Tucson, AZ
MPR News reporter Dan Kraker talks with Daily Circuit host Tom Weber about his reporting from Tucson, Ariz., and what Minnesotans might take away from it. May 27, 2014
By conserving water at every turn, the residents of Tucson have developed an attitude toward water that some think the Land of 10,000 Lakes should emulate.
Encouraging residents to use less water is one thing. But perhaps the biggest water gains Tucson has achieved come from using water more than once. It's a water idea that some in Minnesota think needs to gain importance.
Brad Lancaster, perhaps the nation's expert on capturing and using rainwater, creates an oasis in the desert where he lives. And what he used to do illegally is now sanctioned by the city and imitated by neighbors.
From Marshall to Mountain Lake to Worthington, southwestern Minnesota communities are finding that the hunt for an adequate supply of good water can get expensive.
An MPR News investigation shows that several hundred Minnesota farmers are probably pumping groundwater to irrigate their crops without required permits, making it harder for the state to understand and regulate what's happening to a water resource increasingly seen as vulnerable.
More than 4 billion gallons of water are pumped out of the ground in the Twin Cities every year to remove contamination. Some of that water is treated and put to use but much is not. This map shows the 26 sites in the seven-county area that each pump more than 5 million gallons per year. The two sites in yellow pump more than a billion gallons a year. The shaded area is where a new state approach to dealing with groundwater concerns is focused. Figures are 2008-2012 annual averages, except where noted. Source: Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.
Read what others around Minnesota have to say and add your voice. We want to know what water problems you see in your community and elsewhere and what ideas you have about solutions to those problems.
Keith Buttleman at the Metro Council, Matt Kramer at the St. Paul Area Chamber of Commerce, MPR News reporter Elizabeth Dunbar and MPR News editor Dave Peters talk on the Daily Circuit about White Bear Lake and Minnesota’s water challenges more generally. July 29, 2014
Jim Stark, director of the U.S. Geological Survey’s Minnesota office, tells MPR News’ Cathy Wurzer that recent heavy rains are replenishing shallow aquifers but that deeper levels of water can take years or even decades to respond. Conservation is still important in many areas, Stark says. June 19, 2014
MPR's Cathy Wurzer spoke with Jason Moeckel about how a week of rainy days affects the water level in our underground aquifers. Moeckel is with the Department of Natural Resources' Division of Ecological and Water Resources.
May 1, 2014
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
Even in Minnesota, water is under stress
Jason Moeckel and Bruce Montgomery discuss water on the Daily Circuit
February 21, 2014
For more than a century the brewery in Cold Spring has drawn increasing amounts of water for its operations from a nearby trout stream. But the state says it's time to stop, so the hunt is on for a new source of water. That's proving difficult.
Southeastern Minnesota has plentiful groundwater sources, but the geology in the region makes some of those sources vulnerable to contamination. So cities deal with the challenge by looking for clean water and urging conservation.
A 175 percent increase in irrigation pumping over 25 years has caused the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources to single out this west central Minnesota area as one of three places to focus on groundwater management.
A new effort involving just about anyone from Lino Lakes to Woodbury is about to eclipse the scattered sprinkling limits and water-saving campaigns to rescue a shrinking White Bear Lake. A first step in getting Minnesota residents, businesses and others to think differently about how they use water.
"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.
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.
Minnesota groundwater basics. [PDF] Minnesota Geological Survey.
The state of water. April 2014 report and recommendations by the Center for Rural Policy and Development.