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Twin Cities, MN: Water Sustainability in the Northeast Metro Area

Posted by Content Coordinator on Thursday, January 1st, 2015


Study Objectives
The primary objective of this study is to understand the relative costs and implementation considerations of different approaches to water sustainability. The northeast metro provides a study area for this evaluation. The Minnesota Legislature requested this part of the metro area to be studied specifically, given the continued concern over lake levels and the interaction of groundwater and lakes in the area, especially White Bear Lake. The study area includes 13 communities. The results will be incorporated in the Twin Cities Metropolitan Area Master Water Supply Plan. The study will be referenced to support future planning of metro area water supplies and water sustainability practices.

This feasibility assessment evaluates only three approaches to water supply:

  • Approach 1: Connect northeast metro communities to Saint Paul Regional Water Services to supply drinking water (Saint Paul Expansion) 
  • Approach 2: Develop a surface water connection to a new sub-regional surface water treatment plant (New Surface Water Treatment Plant)
  • Approach 3: Continued development of groundwater sources

In addition to the water supply approaches evaluated, the Council evaluated the feasibility of direct augmentation of White Bear Lake using water from the St. Croix and Mississippi Rivers. This project is
evaluated separately in this study, as it does not directly involve drinking water supplies. In addition, a direct lake augmentation system would likely have different ownership with responsibility for
constructing, operating, and maintaining the system. The approaches were selected in consultation with stakeholders in the northeast metro, based on their potential to reduce impacts on surface water bodies, including White Bear Lake, from groundwater pumping activities. The Council chose the communities in the study area based on proximity to new surface water supplies, proximity to sensitive surface water bodies, as well as their inclusion in the USGS study of White Bear Lake that was published in 2013.

These are not the only viable approaches to achieve water sustainability in the northeast metro. The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) has acknowledged that the communities included in the study area are not the only water users influencing White Bear Lake. There could be many other configurations of solutions that include other municipal water systems, private water users, and other solutions in addition to the infrastructure solutions considered in this study.

The alternatives evaluated should be viewed as examples. The best option for moving forward may be a hybrid of the examples considered in this study, and could involve approaches that were not considered in this study. For example, communities in the northeast metro could utilize less expensive approaches. These might include conservation or stormwater reuse to reduce groundwater pumping before making large-scale investments in alternative infrastructure solutions. Such a plan could couple these less expensive options with aggressive monitoring of groundwater and surface water, and set triggers for further action in the event these less expensive approaches are not effective. 

Four ongoing activities will better inform decision-making related to water use in the northeast metro as they are completed.

1. The USGS is conducting a study, Characterizing Groundwater and Surface Water Interaction in Northeast Metro Area Lakes, MN, with funding from the Council through a Clean Water Fund grant. This study will provide critical information on the surface water/groundwater interaction in the area. This will allow for better understanding of how proposed approaches will mitigate low lake levels. The study is expected to be complete in 2016.

2. The Council is completing a feasibility assessment of the potential for aquifer recharge and reusing stormwater in the North and East Metro Groundwater Management Area. The study area for this feasibility assessment includes the communities in the current study area, and additional communities in Anoka, Ramsey, and Washington counties. The results of this study, expected in 2015, will evaluate the potential of using alternative approaches to reduce impacts to lakes and to address other identified water sustainability issues within the Groundwater Management Area.

3. University of Minnesota Technical Assistance Program (MnTAP) will identify opportunities for industrial water users in the North and East Metro Groundwater Management Area to reduce their water consumption as part of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) strategies under the Groundwater Management Area plan. The source of water in this delineated region is almost exclusively groundwater. Several approaches will be used for this effort in order to reach, inform, and interact with a broad range of industrial users. This work is expected to be completed in the summer of 2015.

4. The DNR is completing a management plan for the North and East Metro Groundwater Management Area. This plan is currently in development, and could impact future groundwater appropriations, groundwater monitoring activities, and the assessment of water use sustainability in the area.

The results of these activities will provide useful information to determine the best course to move the northeast metro in the direction of greater sustainability of water resources. In addition, communities participating in this study have noted that groundwater use could be further reduced by more active conservation programs. Further investigation is needed of the potential for conservation to both reduce future groundwater use and recharge the aquifer and connected surface water bodies.

Figure 1. Saint Paul Supply System Schematic

Download full version (PDF): Feasibility Assessment of Approaches to Water Sustainability in the Northeast Metro (Summary)

About the Metropolitan Council
The Metropolitan Council is the regional planning organization for the seven-county Twin Cities area. The Council operates the regional bus and rail system, collects and treats wastewater, coordinates regional water resources, plans and helps fund regional parks, and administers federal funds that provide housing opportunities for low- and moderate-income individuals and families. The 17-member Council board is appointed by and serves at the pleasure of the governor.

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