3 options to restore White Bear Lake, aquifer - New York News

3 options to restore White Bear Lake, aquifer

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Wetlands map generated via Met Council's website. Wetlands map generated via Met Council's website.
ST. PAUL, Minn. (KMSP) -

The Metropolitan Council released a draft report on Wednesday that details three potential ways to restore the aquifer that supplies groundwater in the northeast metro and area lakes, including White Bear Lake.

All of the potential solutions rely on using additional surface water from the Mississippi River in St. Paul to decrease the reliance on groundwater so that the Prairie du Chien aquifer, which supplies 70 percent of the region's water supply, can be preserved.

"We are mining our groundwater and sending it downstream at the expense of our water supply, natural amenities, quality of life and economy," Water Supply Planning Manager Ali Elhassan explained. "It's a practice that is neither practical nor sustainable, as we can attest from the example of White Bear Lake."

With the goal of finding a more balanced use of ground water and surface water in mind and with $2 million from the Clean Water Legacy Fund put toward a feasibility study, officials have identified three options for the area.

1. Divert treated drinking water from St. Paul Regional Water Services

This option actually includes several strategies, all of which would require modest improvements to the existing system in order to serve more metro communities. If the service is extended to North St. Paul, the capital cost would be about $5 million, with annual operating costs estimated at $1.3 million. Another strategy involves installing a new trunk water main from the water treatment plant at Lake McCarrons to serve the following communities:

- Mahtomedi
- North St. Paul
- Shoreview
- Vadnais Heights
- White Bear Lake
- White Bear Township

The price tag for the larger expansion is considerably higher. The capital cost is estimated at $155 million with annual operating costs of roughly $10 million to provide service to the additional 5 municipalities.

Crews could also significantly expand the Lake McCarrons plant to serve 12 of 13 communities in the study area, starting with the nearest six; expanding to add Centerville, Hugo and Lino Lakes in a second phase and adding Circle Pines, Columbus, Forest Lake and Lexington last. The overall capital investment needed for that plan is estimated at $623 million, but the annual operating cost would be $18 million.

2. Divert untreated water from St.Paul for local treatment and distribution

For a capital cost of about $230 million, a new water treatment plant could be constructed at Vadnais Lake to serve the communities of:

- Mahtomedi
- Vadnais Heights
- White Bear Lake
- White Bear Township

For an additional $610 million, seven other communities -- Centerville, Circle Pines, Columbus, Forest Lake, Hugo, Lexington and Lino Lakes -- could be phased in afterward. No estimate of operating costs has been determined for this option.

3. Pump filtered water from the Mississippi River into White Bear Lake

Filtered river water could also be pumped into White Bear Lake through the chain of lakes that includes the following bodies of water:

- Charley Lake
- Pleasant Lake
- Vadnais lakes

This option could draw and deliver 2 billion gallons of water each year to augment White Bear Lake; however, since both the Mississippi River and Vadnais Lake contain invasive species including zebra mussels, the water would need to be filtered.

Additionally, the study authors say it is not certain that the plan would maintain high water levels in White Bear Lake, and likely would not benefit other lakes or aquifers. It is, however, one of the more cost-effective options with an estimated capital cost of $50 million and an annual operating cost of $300,000.

Which do you think is the best plan? Join the conversation on Facebook.

Is an expansion needed now?

The study did determine that St. Paul's water system does have the capacity to provide roughly 30 million gallons to neighboring communities each day. That amount could adequately meet the area's needs until 2040, according to the study. In fact, the city could serve the six nearest communities without any major system expansions.

Since expanding service beyond those nearest six communities would require large-scale infrastructure changes, a significant rise capital cost would be inevitable. Yet, Elhassan contends that the current state of White Bear Lake shows that the region needs to address water sustainability urgently.

"White Bear Lake is tbellwetherher," she said. "It's showing us what will happen elsewhere in the region if we continue current water use practices."

For years, residents along the lake have watched as their water levels steadily dropped. With this year's heavy rains, the lake is up about 3 feet from last year -- but the problem spans decades. In fact, even with a series of rainfalls measured in inches, the lake is still down about 2 feet from where it was in 2005.

What comes next?

The final report won't be complete until October, but it staffers say it will include a review with local stake holders and provide an evaluation of how much it would cost if no changes are made. Funding scenarios are also expected to be detailed in the final feasibility analysis.

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