Little Canada floats daytime sprinkling ban

As spring breaks through and visions of green grass and flowing water come to mind, the Little Canada City Council is looking at an ordinance that could change some residents’ summer watering habits.

Council members gave the go-ahead to city staff March 14 to draft an ordinance banning daytime lawn sprinkling during the warmest months of the year. The council will discuss the draft ordinance at its March 28 meeting.

The potential ban, which would be in effect 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., May 1 through Sept. 30, to decrease the amount of water lost to evaporation, came up because of a recent court ruling regarding water levels in White Bear Lake.

Public Works Director Bill Dircks explained to the council March 14 that an August 2017 Ramsey County District Court ruling said the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources was mismanaging groundwater well pumping permits in the area near the lake.

A part of the ruling said that if the water level in White Bear Lake fell between 923.5 feet, a total residential watering ban would be put in place for all those living within five miles of the lake. Dircks said a recent check of the water level found it to be roughly half an inch below that level.

“If it were to stay that way, theoretically, the season would begin with a sprinkling ban,” Dircks said, pointing out that though Little Canada has no municipal wells that pump groundwater for residential use, the city buys finished water from the St. Paul water system, which has two pumps in Little Canada.

Those pumps are only used in emergency situations, Dircks said, and St. Paul is likely to get an exemption from the DNR for them. Still the possibility of a ban got staffers thinking.

“All of this has kind of spurred some water conservation talk,” he said, pointing out that both White Bear Lake and Shoreview have similar daytime bans.


Just sprinkling

The ban would only apply to unattended lawn watering.

“This is just turning the sprinkler on and letting it go for a half hour, hour,” Dircks said, noting that car washing, watering shrubs and plants and kids running through a sprinkler would be exempt.

“Obviously, enforcement is going to be an issue,” Dircks said, pointing out it could fall to public works staffers who are out and about in the city the most during the summer months. First-time offenders would expect a warning, and other penalties for repeat daytime sprinklers could include involving the city attorney.

Dircks said the ban would only apply to residential water users; the DNR exempts businesses.

Opening the council’s discussion of a potential ban, Mayor John Keis said he was on board.

“I personally agree with this ... The issues of water, clean water and how much we use — I think this is a step in the right direction,” he said, adding the city could go even further by taking a hard look at cutting back on its municipal uses.

Dircks said the city as a whole, residents, businesses and the government, have been using less and less water over the past 20 years.

Council member Tom Fischer threw a bit of cold water on the idea of the ban, saying that he agreed with it in general, but was skeptical of creating an ordinance that is so difficult to enforce. He floated the idea of a non-city code approach.

“Are we better served doing some promotional work and doing our best to suggest and shame people into doing this, as opposed to being more heavy handed with an ordinance out of the gate?” Fischer asked.

“Both are great,” Keis said, endorsing a two-pronged ordinance and public relations approach.

Council member Michael McGraw said that some residents could be “rather irate” about a ban, which would underscore the need of such an ordinance if the city truly wished to decrease water use. He called for a daytime sprinkling ban.

Though questions of enforcement lingered, City Administrator Joel Hanson threw his support behind the proposal.

“Not only is there a lawsuit that could affect us, like the mayor said, it’s just good environmental responsibility,” he said.


– Mike Munzenrider can be reached at or 651-748-7813

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