White Bear Lake Fought the State and Won

WHITE BEAR LAKE, Minn. – A ruling in Ramsey County court Wednesday determined that the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) broke state law and in doing so has harmed White Bear Lake.

Judge Margaret Marrinan’s ruling found that the DNR completely mismanaged groundwater pumping permits in the area around White Bear Lake, to the detriment of the lake, already known for highly fluctuable water levels, reports the Pioneer Press. The homeowners, businesses, and other community members who were the plaintiffs in the case argued that the pumping of groundwater lowered the level of the lake, while the DNR attributed the lowering water level to the lake’s natural fluctuations.

Marrinan saw things the plaintiff’s way, citing the DNR’s own research back at them in her decision. She ordered the DNR to stop issuing any further well permits anywhere within a five-mile radius of White Bear Lake until it is clear the drawdowns are not affecting the lake, reports the St. Cloud Times.

Marrinan stated that the DNR violated the Minnesota Environmental Rights Act and the Public Trust Doctrine, reports the Pioneer Press. In addition to diminishing the lake, Marrinan also wrote that the DNR failed “to take remedial measures within its authority to protect White Bear Lake and the Prairie du Chien Aquifer, when it had knowledge that its actions in issuing and failing to manage high capacity groundwater pumping permits were adversely affecting the lake and aquifer.”

Attorneys for the plaintiffs believe that Marrinan’s decision could set a strong precedent for other places in the state concerned about pumping resulting in draining bodies of water.

The DNR’s statement on the decision left open the possibility of an appeal to a higher court, without definitively committing to further legal action.

“Based on our initial reading, we were deeply surprised and disappointed in the Court’s order and its implications for citizens and communities in the area,” the DNR wrote in a statement. “It will take some time for us to complete our review of the 140-page opinion and to understand the basis for, and the implications of, the ruling, including any possible next steps.”

Anders Koskinen