July 14, 2024

Aquifer study proposal highlights complexities ingroundwater management for Minnesota counties

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Jake Sias

Grant County Herald

In early August, Traverse County’s attorney, Matt Franzese, approached the Grant County board of commissioners with a proposal for a joint aquifer study. The initiative aims to assess the sustainability of aquifers that are being accessed by dairies in Grant County, but are located in Traverse County. The estimated cost for the study is $15,000. If Grant County participates, each county would contribute $7,500. An additional proposal to include Stevens County could further reduce the cost to $5,000 per county.

Grant County commissioners expressed reservations about joining the study. One reason cited was the pending release of a County Geologic Atlas (CGA) by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR). This atlas is expected to provide comprehensive data on groundwater resources. Unlike Traverse County, which has not yet been surveyed by the DNR, Grant County has completed its survey, and the data is currently being compiled. Commissioners also expressed concern that the proposed study could expand into a larger, more complex project.

Traverse County has indicated a commitment to proceed with the aquifer study, whether or not neighboring counties participate. This decision is noteworthy in the context of Riverview Dairy’s recent actions. The dairy exceeded its water usage permits in 2020 and installed water monitors without a permit in 2021.

Ellen Considine, Hydrologist Supervisor with the Minnesota DNR, stated that the DNR has had the authority to issue water-use permits and impose penalties for overuse since 2014. She also mentioned that the electricity costs associated with pumping water from wells are prohibitively high, making it financially impractical to deplete an entire aquifer.

Geographical variations in aquifer availability exist across MN. In the metro area, aquifers are deeper and more plentiful. In contrast, in western regions like Grant County, aquifers are more dispersed and sometimes only tens of feet thick. MN law, as outlined in chapter 4725 of the MN Rules, requires that water-use permits can only be issued if the groundwater use is sustainable and will not harm ecosystems, degrade water, or reduce water levels beyond the reach of public and private wells.

County Geologic Atlases are considered essential tools for sustainable groundwater management. They provide data on geological features, aquifer properties, and boundaries. While Grant County’s latest survey data is still being compiled, observation wells in the county regularly monitor groundwater levels, and this information is publicly available at: <https://www.dnr.state.mn.us/waters/cgm/index.html.>

Soil composition also plays a role in groundwater availability. In Grant County, the glacial sediment primarily consists of fine-grained materials like clay and silt, which contain limited extents of surficial and buried sand aquifers. In western MN, fractured bedrock is commonly found buried deeply beneath glacial sediment and is of limited use as an aquifer.

In summary, the proposed joint aquifer study between Traverse and Grant Counties has highlighted several complexities in groundwater management, including legal frameworks, geographical disparities, and ongoing data collection efforts. The proposal serves as a focal point for discussions on sustainable water resource management, as counties consider the costs, benefits, and implications of collaboration.

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