State’s water shouldn’t be for exportation

Published 6:14 am Wednesday, November 6, 2019

The Free Press, Mankato

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

The Old West saying that “Whiskey is for drinking, water is for fighting over” remains true today.

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When an investment group called Empire Builder Investments Inc. announced last month it would pursue pumping up to 500 million gallons of water annually from the Mount Simon-Hinckley aquifer, a public uproar ensued.

The investors want to put the drinking water on trains and sell it to regions of the southwest U.S. that face water shortages.

While the proposed wells would be about 30 miles south of the Twin Cities, the project is of concern in the Mankato area, which gets water from the Mount Simon aquifer.

After the public outrage, Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Sarah Strommen said there was “virtually no scenario” in which she would approve the project.

Minnesota is blessed with water, but it is not inexhaustible, a fact Minnesotans and regulators have become more aware of. The DNR, which issues permits for those taking large amounts of groundwater, has become more conservative about how many permits it issues.

Last year the agency told a Fargo-based company it would need an environmental study before it was given permits for several potato growing irrigation systems in central Minnesota. The company withdrew its permit requests.

Even surface water, particularly from the Great Lakes, has been eyed by some as a source of water for cities near the lakes or to sell to parched states.

Fortunately, the Great Lakes Compact was approved in 2008, with two Canadian provinces, eight states, including Minnesota, and the federal government agreeing that water couldn’t be pumped from the Great Lakes, except for use by cities within the lakes’ water basin.

But there are still occasional suggestions that water could be taken from the Mississippi River and sold elsewhere, a prospect that hasn’t been seriously tested in court or addressed by laws.

While the plan by Empire Builder Investments appears to be dead, the uproar it created may be a benefit in that it should boost efforts for the Legislature to enact stronger protections for Minnesota’s groundwater and to look more closely at surface water usage.