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Charlie Petersen, the facilitator for the Bonanza Valley Groundwater Management Area, compiles responses from the advisory committee during a meeting Wednesday in Belgrade. Tribune photo by Carolyn Lange

Or there may not be enough water: Conservation discussed as a strategy for Bonanza Valley groundwater plan

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BELGRADE –– Minnesotans need to have a change of attitude when it comes to thinking about how much water there is in the state, and have a change in habits for how much they use.

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If they don’t, there may not be enough water for everybody in the future, said David Leuthe, a water conservation specialist with the Department of Natural Resources.

There’s always been an “abundance” of water in Minnesota and not much attention has been paid to conservation, said Leuthe, during a meeting Wednesday in Belgrade with the Bonanza Valley Groundwater Management Area.

But Leuthe said the state is edging towards water “scarcity” and conservation needs to happen.

Water conservation is one of the seven priority strategies being reviewed by an advisory panel for the Bonanza Valley Groundwater Management Area, which stretches from near Alexandria to Paynesville.

It is one of three targeted zones in the state where groundwater usage has increased dramatically in recent years.

The Bonanza Valley area has also had a growing number of permit applications for irrigation wells.

The Department of Natural Resources has been holding regional meetings with the advisory team, which includes landowners who irrigate as well as government entities that oversee water use permits.

When the meetings conclude this fall, the DNR hopes to have a working plan in place for managing groundwater that will guide the DNR’s management actions for the next five years.

Leuthe said he got involved with the Bonanza Valley area in 2009 when several domestic wells ran dry.

“There were indicators that something was going on underneath the surface,” he said.

Since then, the DNR has been learning more about aquifers and has been working with irrigators and communities to increase the awareness and understanding of how to have a sustainable water supply by balancing need and supply, he said.

Leuthe said the level of aquifers in the Bonanza Valley fluctuates up and down during high and low use times and there are times when too much water is removed too fast.

He said part of a conservation plan may involve “timing” of water use by large users to make sure aquifers recharge adequately so families know water will come out of the spigot.

Leuthe said he believes there’s enough water in the state “with smarter, wiser management of our water resources” that could include new technology and practices already used by states where water has been scarce for many years.

Making sure that every well used for irrigation has the proper appropriate permit, and that permit holders are complying with the usage they are permitted for, is another part of the proposed strategic plan that was discussed at length on Wednesday.

There was frustration expressed with the current DNR permit system that involves preliminary approval for a well, followed by a color-coded letter that Rep. Paul Anderson said left farmers in limbo.

While a few applicants get green letters indicating there are no concerns and some get red letters listing numerous concerns, most get yellow cautionary letters with a number of what-ifs.

“They sit there and they don’t know what to do,” said Anderson, who represents a segment of the Bonanza Valley area. “They sit in la-la land.”

Janell Miersch, from the DNR’s ecological and water resources division, said applicants are given data for the geographical area of the proposed permit and cautioned that placing a well in one location could have certain impacts and placing it another spot could have a different effect on groundwater, or a lake or stream.

That information could cause people to have “second thoughts” about putting in the well, she said.

Applicants can drill a well once the preliminary approval is given and then apply for a specific use permit, but she said there’s no guarantee they’ll be allowed to use the amount of water requested.

Several members of the advisory team said it was unreasonable for farmers to invest in drilling a well and setting up a system if their request may not be approved.

It was suggested that better communication between the DNR, well drillers and applicants could help resolve issues with permits and usage.

The group will meet again June 25 in Glenwood.

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Carolyn Lange
A reporter for more than 30 years, Carolyn Lange covers county government and regional news with the West Central Tribune.
(320) 894-9750
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