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White Bear Lake Ruling Favors Homeowners, Faults DNR

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- For more than a decade the vanishing water of White Bear Lake perplexed residents and recreationists alike.

The average lake level had dropped about 6 feet by 2012. Although White Bear Lake appears to be maintaining its normal summertime level, the scare prompted the lake's restoration association and area homeowners to sue the state. The lawsuit alleged that the Department of Natural Resources was doing too little to prevent water loss by mismanaging municipal well water permits.

On Wednesday, Ramsey County Judge Margaret Marrinan delivered a victory to plaintiffs in a scathing 140-page ruling.

In the Judge's extensive decision, Marrinan blamed the DNR for violating the public trust doctrine and the Minnesota Environmental Rights Act. Essentially, by mismanaging groundwater resources by issuing too many municipal well permits.

"It is undisputed the pumping is harming ecosystems in the lake and underlying aquifer," the judge wrote.

"White Bear Lake is the canary in the coal mine for the aquifer underneath the lake," resident Jim Markoe said.

He is also one of the plaintiffs who sued the state on behalf of the lake. Markoe now hopes the ruling forces the state to get serious about its precious water resources.

"If we keep doing what we're doing, the lake will continue to disappear and there are places on the lake that are simply gone," he said. "In the last 10 years there are places that were navigable, and they're not navigable water anymore."

According to the Metropolitan Council, one-third of all water use in the Twin Cities is nonessential, largely used for watering lawns.

The ruling forces the state to adopt tougher water conservation measures, including reviewing all existing groundwater permits within 5 miles of White Bear Lake. If they do not comply with sustainability standards, they must be reopened and downsized within six months.

In addition, the DNR will have to strictly enforce a low water action level for White Bear Lake and impose a residential watering ban when the lake level falls below 923.5 feet.

"I live in Woodbury and we got restrictions, and they're a lot tougher than they are out here," angler Jim Gee said.

The DNR would not discuss the ruling but issued a brief statement, saying it is "deeply surprised and disappointed."

It will study the ruling's implications on all water well permits and a possible appeal.

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