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DNR instructed to ask South Dakota to convene Boundary Waters Commission

MONTEVIDEO -- Gov. Tim Pawlenty has instructed the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources to look into requests that the Boundary Waters Commission be reconvened to consider water appropriation requests for Big Stone Lake.

Kent Lokkesmoe, director of waters for the DNR, will make a formal request to South Dakota to convene the commission, members of the Minnesota River Board learned Monday at their meeting in Montevideo. The Minnesota River Board represents the 37 Minnesota counties in the Minnesota River basin. The board is comprised of county commissioners from the member counties.

The River Board and the Minnesota River Watershed Alliance, which represents citizen groups in the basin, both had sent letters asking the governor to request that the Boundary Waters Commission be convened.

Both groups are concerned that the South Dakota Water Management Board acted unilaterally in granting a water appropriation permit. The permit allows the owners of the proposed Big Stone II power plant to appropriate 3.2 billion gallons of water annually from Big Stone Lake.

Big Stone II is a 630-megawatt, coal-fired electric generation plant proposed by a group of electric utilities. It would be built next to the existing 450-megawatt , located near Big Stone City, S.D.

The Minnesota River Board says that Minnesota did not have any "substantive input'' in the decision to allocate the water.

Both the River Board and the Watershed Alliance argue that an issue involving a shared water resource should be considered by the South Dakota-Minnesota Boundary Waters Commission.

"If you're a good neighbor and you're putting up a fence, you'd want the other neighbor to know just what is going on,'' said William Stangler, a Le Sueur County commissioner and chairman of the Minnesota River Board.

Stangler's comments came as he emphasized that the board's concern was over the process, not the appropriation itself.

Patrick Moore, representing the Minnesota River Watershed Alliance and Clean Up our River Environment, said the Minnesota DNR had expressed concerns to South Dakota when the appropriation request was initially considered in South Dakota. The DNR raised the issue of convening the Boundary Waters Commission. Now it will do so formally, according to information from Lokkesmoe.

Moore said that he also learned on Monday that the developers of the Big Stone II power plant project recently filed applications to tap groundwater sources for the plant as well. The groundwater supply would be used as a backup to the use of water from Big Stone Lake, according to Howard Janssen, a Big Stone County commissioner and member of the Minnesota River Board.

The Big Stone II project includes plans to develop a 450-acre reservoir to hold water taken from Big Stone Lake. The water will be used for cooling water needs. The appropriation to take water from Big Stone Lake includes restrictions that would limit the amount that could be taken when the lake falls below 967 feet of elevation. When the elevation drops to 965 or lower, no water could be taken from the lake.

Big Stone Lake is the source for the Minnesota River. Some critics of the allocation have expressed concerns that the appropriation of water could adversely affect the river and Marsh and Lac qui Parle lakes.

Janssen defended the appropriations in discussions with River Board members. He noted that the project contains restrictions to prevent a draw-down when water levels and flows are down. Janssen added that some of the project engineers live on Big Stone Lake and are protective of it. "They're not going to cut off their nose to spite their face,'' he said.