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Water woes: Options laid out for restoring White Bear Lake levels

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The dramatic decline in the water levels of White Bear Lake in recent years spurred the Metropolitan Council to look at the long-term water needs of the Twin Cities metro area, particularly the northeastern suburbs.

The Met Council Wednesday released a feasibility study which lays out several options for addressing the problem, with costs that range from $5 million all the way up to $623 million, the Pioneer Press reports.

White Bear Lake has lost one-fourth of its volume over the past decade, the Star Tribune reports, and the shoreline has receded dramatically.

But that's just a symptom of the larger concern over the long-term health of the metro area's primary source of drinking water, the Prairie du Chien-Jordan Aquifer, which is shown in the map below.

About 70 percent of the area gets its water from that aquifer, according to the Star Tribune. Many experts believe the heavy reliance on groundwater from the aquifer is one reason for the receding water levels of White Bear Lake.

Researchers with the U.S. Geological Survey have found that municipal wells were contributing to the drawdown of the lake level.

In 2012 property owners on White Bear Lake argued in a lawsuit that the DNR had mismanaged the groundwater. In September a judge rejected the DNR’s move to have the suit dismissed.

"The lake is a symptom of a problem," Ali Elhassen, water supply manager at the Metropolitan Council, said Wednesday, according to the Pioneer Press.

Elhassan cautions that the rate at which water is being taken from the aquifer is not sustainable over the long term, and if nothing is done the metro area could see water shortages and rationing in the future.

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

The options laid out in the feasibility study range from piping water from the Mississippi River into White Bear Lake, at a cost of $50 million; to expanding St. Paul's regional water system to reach 13 communities in northern Ramsey County, at a cost of $623 million. Other proposals fall somewhere in between (A detailed breakdown of each alternative is at FOX 9).

Residents can learn more about the study and the various proposals being considered at a community meeting this Thursday at 6 p.m. at Century College in White Bear Lake.

The final report is due in October, and will include more thorough information about the alternatives and how to pay for them, the Pioneer Press reports.

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