Legal battles over White Bear Lake water level ruling continue


file photo • North St. Paul is one of ten cities with groundwater wells within a five-mile radius of White Bear Lake, a region determined by a Ramsey County judge to be influencing the lake’s chronically low water contitions. The city and others are fighting elements of the judge’s ruling that would mean costly changes to the way they deliver water to residents and business.

Legislature, DNR and North St. Paul resist water-use changes.

Just before the legislative session ended, a law was passed that for one year will bar the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources from enforcing conditions put on groundwater permits within five miles of White Bear Lake. 

Gov. Mark Dayton deposited the bill with the Secretary of State May 20, allowing it to become law without his signature. The bill was passed by the House and Senate earlier this month.

The purpose of the law’s one-year pause is to ensure that those affected by the conditions that resulted from a Ramsey County District Court ruling are able to understand the orders and to see what happens with DNR appeals, explained Rep. Linda Runbeck when the bill was being discussed in the House on May 8. 

Runbeck is a Republican from Circle Pines and was the House sponsor of the bill.

On May 14 when the Senate discussed the bill, Sen. Roger Chamberlain added that the pause will also allow the DNR, Metropolitan Council, cities, counties and individuals to continue to commit their resources to studies of White Bear Lake and area groundwater. Chamberlain is a Republican from Lino Lakes and was the Senate sponsor of the bill.

Opposition to the bill in both the House and the Senate shared the opinion that it was not the Legislature’s place to get involved.

The water permit conditions, which the law reacts to, were required by a court order placed on the DNR by Ramsey County Judge Margaret Marrinan following an August 2017 ruling, which holds the DNR responsible for mismanaging water resources around White Bear Lake, leading to the lake’s chronic low water conditions. The lawsuit was initiated by the White Bear Lake Restoration Association.

The water permit conditions for cities using groundwater wells within a five-mile radius of the lake include a residential irrigation ban and creation of a plan for switching to using surface water.

Ten cities were affected by the restrictions including Lake Elmo, Oakdale and North St. Paul. The St. Paul Regional Water Service also received restrictions, which could affect the 11 cities that get water from it, including Maplewood.

“The bulk of the impact of the judge’s orders fall on the [scores] of residents of the northeast metro area in the Twin Cities,” said Runbeck.

In March, when area cities received notice of the new water permit conditions, legislation to pause the conditions was already being created, but in an effort to cover all bases, all ten cities filed appeals to the DNR’s restrictions and are awaiting hearings. 

The appeals process allowed the cities to forgo implementing the conditions until the appeals are addressed in court. However, the cities received notice at the beginning of April that they were each still required to create surface water plans, due to the appeals requests not meeting the deadline for that condition.

According to court documents, the cost of switching to surface water would vary from city to city, but for North St. Paul it would cost about $6 million.

“The judge did not simply just order damages to the plaintiffs. The judge has stepped in and said, ‘You’re going to spend money,’” Chamberlain said.

 

North St. Paul’s response to

DNR appeal

At North St. Paul’s May 15 City Council meeting, City Manager Craig Waldron shared news that the DNR and the City of White Bear Lake filed a May 11 appeal to the judge’s order.

The appeal covers six components of the White Bear Lake case, including Marrinan’s court order requiring the DNR to add conditions to water permits and her court order denying a request to wait on implementing those conditions until the end of the appeal process.

North St. Paul city attorney Soren Mattick explained that because North St. Paul was not part of the original lawsuit, the city normally wouldn’t be able to participate in the appeal, but because North St. Paul is affected by the outcome of the original lawsuit, Mattick recommended the city file an amicus brief, which allows city representation to explain, as a “friend of the court,” why the issue affects the city.

“I think there’s merit to filing an amicus. It’s an important issue. Even if the legislation passes, it’s basically just a stay for a year,” Mattick said, adding that even if the Legislature brought it up again next year, the court of appeals case may take even longer before the matter is resolved.

The council unanimously agreed to notify the Minnesota Court of Appeals of its desire to file an amicus brief, though the notification had not yet been filed as of press time.

The Oakdale City Council has not discussed this option, according to its city administrator, but Lake Elmo City Administrator Kristina Handt confirmed that an amicus brief will be filed on behalf the city. Also, Hugo notified the court May 23 of its desire to present an amicus brief.

 

– Aundrea Kinney can be reached at 651-748-7822 or akinney@lillienews.com

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