Funding to augment White Bear Lake pulled from Senate but lingers in House

by Trevor Russell

Water levels in White Bear Lake have fallen dramatically in the last decade, leading to calls to augment lake levels with water pumped in from nearby lakes.  

After several years of lawsuits, settlements and studies, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources released a much-anticipated report detailing cost estimates for a potential augmentation system. The potential price tag? Up to $107 million, plus up to $4.1 million in annual operating costs.

In our recent commentary in the White Bear Press, FMR weighed in on the risks of augmentation, and suggested that state resources would be better invested in finding a sustainable supply of drinking water in the north and east metro area.

Shortly thereafter, a pair of bills came forward in the legislature with provisions advancing the augmentation system approach. The bills, authored by Senator Wiger in the Senate [SF 3576] and Representative Fischer in the House [HF 3976] called for $3,630,000 in fiscal year 2017 for four items related to White Bear Lake:

  1. [FMR supports]: $1,500,000 for a study to evaluate long-term water supply sustainability in the north and east metro, and assess the feasibility and costs of options to secure a long-term water supply.
  2. [FMR neutral]: $280,000 for water quality monitoring, modeling and data analysis to establish baseline water quality conditions in White Bear Lake, and assess the water quality and aquatic life impacts of augmenting White Bear Lake with water from Vadnais Lake.
  3. [FMR opposed]: $1,700,000 for planning and preliminary engineering work needed to further refine the White Bear Lake augmentation cost estimate.
  4. [FMR opposed] $150,000 for development of three design-build proposals. The commissioner shall request design-build qualifications and select three qualified entities to develop design-build proposals.

While the bill has not been heard in the House, it did receive a hearing in the Minnesota Senate Environment and Energy Committee. Prior to that hearing, Senator Wiger agreed to remove provisions #3 and #4, thus removing any funds to prepare or advance an augmentation system. Instead, the bulk of the remaining funds (item #1) are dedicated to advancing a sustainable water supply system for the north and east metro.

During our testimony of the bill, FMR thanked Senator Wiger for his willingness to remove the augmentation provisions in the bill, and for his commitment to finding a sustainable solution to long-term drinking water supplies in the region.

FMR will continue to work with stakeholders throughout the remainder of the 2016 legislative session to monitor this bill and secure funding for advancing a sustainable water supply system in a final state budget deal.

Learn more about White Bear Lake and how direct augmentation impacts the Mississippi River.

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