Drought warning phase: Minnesota crosses troubling threshold

The state hasn't reached this level in nearly a decade.
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The State of Minnesota is officially under a drought warning.

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) said Friday that with 52% of the Minnesota experiencing "severe" drought, the state has entered the drought warning phase.

"The warning phase for drought occurs when a significant portion of the state passes thresholds for severe drought conditions at major watersheds," the DNR wrote in its announcement.. "We have reached this threshold."

The warning phase can also be triggered when Mississippi River flow in the Twin Cities metro area drops below designated levels. The DNR said it expects that to happen in the next few days.

Related: Minneapolis residents face water restrictions if severe drought continues

A drought warning is essentially the third stage (out of five) in the state's drought plan, behind "restrictive" and "emergency" phases. Each escalating stage comes with a set of state actions, as well as requirements from water users and suppliers.

In the drought warning phase, public water suppliers are directed to implement their water-use reduction plans.

That means cities, municipalities and regional water utility services need to take these steps now, Conservation Assistance and Regulation Section Manager Randall Doneen told Bring Me The News. The goal is for these public water suppliers to reduce water usage to 50% above January levels.

How to do so is up to each individual supplier, Doneen said, and may or may not include restrictions placed on residents or businesses. Public water suppliers serving more than 1,000 people are required to have a water supply plan already in place. Other water users must also "implement appropriate conservation measures," the state's drought plan says.

 The DNR is tasked with suspending or altering water appropriations, and has already done so in 10 watersheds, the agency said, as drought conditions have pushed water flow levels below the low flow threshold. More suspensions are expected.

While short bouts of natural and severe drought are expected each year, it is these long stretches that prompt such a response. Minnesota last reached the drought warning phase in 2012, DNR Lead Information Officer Greg Husak told Bring Me The News.

No widespread rainfall is expected into next week, and temperatures will climb into the upper-80s and low-90s.

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