White Bear Lake, Minnesota suffers the same predicament as many other communities across the country:  growth that challenges resource availability, specifically water.  Fear of overextending water supplies frequently incites community dispute between those in favor of development and those in favor of conservation and informed water planning. The White Bear Lake dispute has played out in the courts for over a decade.

In the 2010s, White Bear Lake experienced low water levels that prompted the White Bear Lake Homeowners Association and White Bear Lake Restoration Association to file a lawsuit against the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), maintaining that the DNR allowed pumping to an extent that allowed the lake’s level to drop to an unacceptable level.  The case settled in 2014 contingent upon several goals being achieved within three years; however, the goals were not met as required, negating the stay on the litigation and the case went to trial.  In 2017, the court ordered the DNR “to review all existing well permits within five miles of the lake, stop issuing new permits, and ban lawn watering if White Bear Lake falls below 923.5 feet above sea level.”[1] The DNR appealed and won in 2019, but the issue was ultimately decided by the Supreme Court in 2020, the court finding that the two groups had a claim under the Minnesota Environmental Rights Act (MERA). 

Concerns over groundwater pumping gained renewed attention with the recent introduction of two bills (SF3055 and HF3880) that could pave the way for additional water level depletion.  The legislation stipulates that any permit for municipal groundwater withdrawal within a 5-mile radius of White Bear Lake is to be approved by the DNR, effectively blocking the agency’s ability to intervene with actions geared toward sustaining healthy waterways and ground water resources when deemed necessary.  The bills also and undermine MERA, releasing the state from any lawsuits connected with groundwater withdrawal permits in the White Bear Lake area until January 2041.  Furthermore, the legislation would set a precedent paving the way for others to challenge MERA.

Although there is continued controversy surrounding the bills, both sides agree that the DNR and representatives of the community identify alternatives to deliver safe drinking water in ways that allow for municipal growth while establishing sustainable resource management practices moving forward.


[1] Sepic, Matt. “DNR to Appeal Ruling on White Bear Lake Over-Pumping.” MPR News, MPR News, 14 July 2019, www.mprnews.org/story/2017/09/26/dnr-to-appeal-ruling-on-white-bear-lake-overpumping.