Met Council report outlines water options for Shoreview, Vadnais Heights

A Metropolitan Council study recently referenced in a settlement agreement between the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and two groups concerned with water levels on White Bear Lake was released Dec. 29.

The study outlines approaches to water sustainability in a section of the northeast metro, including Shoreview and Vadnais Heights. It focuses on how to deliver water to those communities, possibly by switching from groundwater to the St. Paul Regional Water Service.

The White Bear Lake Restoration Association and White Bear Lake Homeowners' Association sued the DNR in 2012 contending its regulation of water use in the area, specifically groundwater use in cities neighboring the lake, contributed to White Bear Lake's recent low water levels.

As part of the settlement agreement reached in December of last year, the DNR agreed to lobby the state Legislature to fund the conversion to the St. Paul water system for cities that draw on the groundwater aquifer. 

At the time of the settlement, details of how this would be done were scarce, though the switch was estimated to cost somewhere between $155 million to $230 million. The study explains in greater detail two ways the conversion could be done in that price range, as well as other alternatives.

Both options would also connect Mahtomedi, North St. Paul, White Bear Lake and White Bear Township to St. Paul water.

Extended connection or new plant

One option outlined in the report, estimated to cost just more than $155 million, would connect the cities to the St. Paul water system via the McCarrons Water Treatment Plant in Maplewood, via a new "major trunk water main."

The Met Council study says this option maximizes existing infrastructure, increases the system's reliability and should help the aquifer recover, though it's uncertain if it would change area lake levels. This option would require a significant investment and could increase water rates in the cities, as well as resulting in less local control over water supplies.

A second option, estimated to cost just less than $227 million, would connect the cities to the St. Paul water system via a new water treatment plant to be constructed on Vadnais Lake and another major trunk water main.

The study says this option would increase the system's reliability, help the aquifer recover and allow communities to retain more local control of the water supply, though it has the same drawbacks as the other option, along with a higher initial cost and other complications like the question of the system's organizational structure.

Switching the six cities to surface water as detailed above would reduce groundwater pumping by 4.5 billion gallons per year, 57 percent of the total water use in the area of study.

A middle-priced alternative estimated to cost nearly $164 million would again build a water treatment plant on Vadnais Lake and connect to cities via a major trunk water main, but the cities would still rely on groundwater for some of their needs. This plan would reduce groundwater pumping by an estimated 49 percent.

The report says if these six cities, along with seven others in the northeast metro -- Centerville, Circle Pines, Columbus, Forest Lake, Hugo, Lexington and Lino Lakes -- continue to rely on groundwater, the cost to maintain the status quo through 2040 would be more than $90 million.

The report also outlines plans that would connect all 13 cities to St. Paul water, all of which cost more than estimates of $600 million, eliminating municipal groundwater pumping in the area.

Movement on any of these options is likely years away, as city officials and legislators have questioned where the political will and funding will come from to make action possible.

Mike Munzenrider can be reached at mmunzenrider@lillienews.com or 651-748-7824. Follow him on Twitter @mmunzenrider.

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