An update on the Little Rock Creek sustainable groundwater use planning project

A group of about two dozen residents of Morrison and Benton counties held its fifth meeting with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) late last month to discuss issues surrounding groundwater and water quality concerns in and around Little Rock Creek. The DNR hopes to use feedback from the group to develop a plan to guide groundwater management in the area for the next five years.

Group members expressed concern that irrigators were being unfairly singled out as the cause of problems on Little Creek. Questions also were raised if there truly is a problem with groundwater supply in the area, and if the groundwater model DNR is developing is valid. The group also highlighted the need for potential economic impacts if appropriation permits were altered.

Other feedback from the group (collected through a state facilitator meeting individually with group members) included:

  • Some participants feel that they are not being heard;
  • Participants feel uneasy about DNR’s role as a regulatory agency;
  • Some believe there is no problem and nothing needs to be done, while others feel that it is a good time to evaluate groundwater use;
  • Some feel DNR has already decided what it’s going to do;
  • Participants would like a draft plan to react to.

DNR officials responded that there are no plans at this time to alter the amount of water provided via appropriation permits. If future information shows a need for altering permits, economic impacts would be considered. Officials also said they appreciated the open dialogue and that there are good management practices being implemented by irrigators concerning nutrients and water use.

Steve Colvin, deputy director for DNR’s division of ecological and water resources, said the agency hears five key questions related to Little Rock:

  • What is DNR doing here?
  • What’s the problem?
  • What will DNR do with appropriation permits?
  • Why were limited permits issued to some?
  • Why is there no draft plan to react to?

Colvin also addressed each question:

  • Issuing permits is not just about water levels in aquifers. DNR is required by law to issue permits only when the groundwater use is sustainable to supply future generations and use will not harm water quality.
  • Data indicates that groundwater appropriations may be depleting stream flows in late summer. Degraded water quality is also partly the result of appropriations. Finally, DNR needs more accurate and comprehensive data about much, when and where groundwater is being used.
  • More data and analysis is needed and no predictions related to permits can be made until more information is compiled.
  • As new appropriation permits were requested, DNR realized it lacked sufficient data to make sure the appropriations would not cause negative impacts. According to state law, DNR’s options were to not issue the permits or issue them with duration limits. The limits will be removed once sufficient information is secured, but other conditions may apply.
  • DNR is continuing to develop a better understanding of issues and concerns through a series of advisory group meetings because they feel it is more open and transparent that simply coming in with a plan for people to react to.

The group was scheduled to meet with DNR again on Aug. 24. Topics on the discussion agenda included economic aspects of irrigation, potential for stream augementation to address Little Rock concerns and permitting issues and reasonable use.

Questions about this project can be addressed to Mark Hauck, DNR project manager, at 320-223-7846 or mark.hauck@state.mn.us. To sign up for email updates and follow progress of the plan on the DNR’s project web page go to: http://www.dnr.state.mn.us/waters/groundwater_section/sustainability/lrc/index.html.

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