Ask Legislators to Drop Provisions Removing Groundwater Protections

The Environment & Natural Resources omnibus bill, SF2314, contains several provisions which, if adopted in the final bill version, would undermine basic groundwater protections and allow destruction of trout fisheries.

The Senate version of SF 2314 has provisions (Sections 81, 82, 84 and 85) undermining intelligent groundwater management, which will lead to the damage and destruction of trout fisheries in several areas of the state.  The House version does not contain these bad provisions and we hope the conference committee appointed to resolve differences between the two versions will drop the Senate provisions. The side-by-side comparison of House and Senate versions can be found at this legislative link:

https://www.revisor.mn.gov/side_by_sides/2569584

 

Pages R66 to R69 of this document contain Senate Sections 81 to 85.

 

Section 85 allows removal of cold base flow from trout streams

Aquifers in many areas of the state are being steadily depleted through excessive, unsustainable pumping of groundwater. In 2010 Minnesota enacted groundwater sustainability requirements, which recognize the fact that where surface waters are most closely connected to groundwater the coldwater fisheries found there act as “canaries in the coal mine”, warning when sustainability thresholds are being exceeded. These groundwater dependent fisheries are our precious trout fisheries. Scientific data indicates that negative impacts to fisheries become substantial when 10% of summer base flow is lost due to groundwater pumping. Section 85 would require DNR to keep issuing more permits well past this 10% threshold and handcuff them until after 20% of base flow is removed! This would destroy many trout streams.

 

Section 81 prevents reasonable measures to ensure sustainable use for all

 

The DNR currently allows the transfer of groundwater appropriation permits from a landowner to his/her successor. However, many old permits have permitted amounts far beyond what is actually being used. And in some areas overall groundwater use is causing a shortage or will very soon. For these reasons the DNR needs (and currently has) the ability to modify old permits to ensure sustainable use and resource protection. Section 81 would prevent DNR from adding conditions, reducing permitted amounts or requiring testing to ensure use is not excessive. Existing permittees would in effect be guaranteed special water rights (Western style “first in time, first in right”) rather than Minnesota’s fair share and “reasonable use” approach.

 

Section 84 stifles public discussion

 

In areas where heavy extraction means groundwater pumping is near or above sustainable levels, the DNR has begun using groundwater management areas (GWMAs) and planning as a tool to find equitable ways to limit total annual water appropriations and ensure sustainable use for current and future generations to meet their needs. Development of management plans which are fair to all users requires information sharing and public dialogue. Section 84 would withhold information from the public and muzzle informed public discussion. This change is inconsistent with the whole purpose of GWMAs (found in Minnesota Statutes 2018, section 103G.287, subdivision 4).

 

Section 82 requires DNR to do economic studies

 

DNR staff do not have expertise in economics. Yet Section 82 requires that DNR conduct economic impact studies as part of GWMA plans. This will require that the DNR hire expensive outsize consultants. Besides being expensive, it diverts attention away from the central factual question how much groundwater available for sustained use.

 

The changes proposed in Sections 81 to 85 do nothing to get at the problem of how to manage groundwater use sustainably. If adopted they will merely enable excessive pumping by a few individuals to continue or increase at the expense of the public and anglers.

 

Please contact House and Senate conference Committee members in the next day or two and urge they drop Sections 81, 82, 84 and 85 of SF 2314.

 

The conferees are:

Senators Ingebrigtsen; Ruud; Eichorn; Johnson; and Tomassoni

Representatives Hansen; Persell; Fischer; Becker-Finn; and Nathan Nelson

 

Find their contact information under the “Members” sections at https://www.leg.state.mn.us/