Growing up in Mahtomedi, MN, White Bear Lake had a stronghold in my life. As a child, my nanny would take me there to learn to swim. Growing older, it became the location of my friend’s biking and summer adventures. Although this lake is typically considered one of the deepest, largest, and cleanest in the Twin Cities, over the past decade, the lake has been on a steady decline. And while precipitation has remained consistent over a thirty year period, in November 2012, the White Bear Lake Restoration Association declared that White Bear Lake reached a historic all time low. The lake is now over five feet lower than average, and said to have a quarter of its volume since the previous decade.
This dramatic decrease of White Bear Lake has not only been an eye sore to the community, but has also drastically impacted local recreation, residential value, and businesses. Areas that were previously completely submerged in water are now exposed to lakebed, looking more like a marsh than a thriving lake. This has lead to many sporadic closures of Ramsey County Beaches, due to the dangerous drop-offs and the environmental issues that follow this type of lake depletion. Businesses such as Tally’s Dockside Bar and Admiral D’s rely on customers who use the lake for swimming and boating. Furthermore, residents depend on their ability to access the lake to maintain their high home values. Frustrations from the dwindling shoreline have motivated homeowners in the area to sue the DNR.
But why? According to the White Bear Lake Groundwater and Surface-water Interaction Study by USGS hydrologist Perry Jones, the Twin Cities pumps 3.4 billions of gallons more per year of groundwater from the Prairie du Chien aquifer (compared to 1980). Jones and other local scientists site this as being a main contributor to the problem. He also found that it would take more than four inches per year of rain above average to stop the lake’s shrinkage. This dilemma in White Bear Lake represents a Twin Cities wide predicament: 75% of our water comes from groundwater, and only 25% from surface water. While many communities prefer to extract groundwater because of its accessibility and affordability, as Ali Elhassan from Metropolitan Council said, “This is simply not sustainable.” Moving forward, Elhassen believes that to avoid water shortages we must invest in “more balanced” water sources, such as tapping deep percolation in our water table.
In what ways has water consumption affected your community and its landscape? In terms of our water sources, what other precautions should we take moving forward?
Credits: Images by Abbey Seitz. Graph and data liked to sources.