Reporting Bill Hudson
WHITE BEAR LAKE (WCCO) — It’s been mystifying residents and scientists for a number of years: Where is all the water going in White Bear Lake? While there are no simple answers, those studying the problem believe they’ve found a cause — but it won’t be easy to fix.
It seems unlikely in the “land of 10,000 lakes” that we’d even talk about the need to conserve water. But since 1980, the amount of water being pumped from the ground in the north metro has more than doubled, and that’s having a big impact on one popular recreational lake.
White Bear Lake’s water level is down over five feet from its average and showing no sign of reversing course.
“Yes, it’s come up from the record low but it’s really going down again,” explained Perry Jones, a hydrologist with the U.S. Geological Survey.
The USGS is busy crunching 30 years of precipitation and lake level data to see what’s causing White Bear’s incredible drop. What they’ve found is a link between low precipitation and high groundwater use.
“We saw there was basically a doubling of the amount of water being extracted and it’s all coming from the Prairie du Chains and Jordan aquifers that lie under White Bear Lake,” said Jones.
Municipal and industrial pumping from the two major aquifers is happening faster than nature can recharge them. Making matters worse is the fact that drought conditions since 2003 have starved the lake of badly needed runoff. The lake’s watershed is among the smallest, meaning it needs to capture all the rainfall and snowmelt it can to maintain healthy water levels. But when the aquifers lying just underneath the lakebed begin dropping, so too does the lake above.
“Groundwater and precipitation all have an effect on it,” says area resident, Bill Mample.
Mample lived here his entire life and while he doesn’t like what he’s been seeing, he remains optimistic the lake will come back!
“Yes, I believe it will. They’ve been reporting that we need above normal precipitation,” said Mample.
There is no magic bullet to quickly turn it around, but it will increase pressure on the state and municipalities to develop more sustainable water use standards. So, get used to hearing about conservation and low flow valves.