Minnesota’s Drought Task Force meets as longstanding dry pattern continues

Published 8:01 pm Friday, September 15, 2023

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By Mathew Holding Eagle III

Amid deepening drought conditions across much of region, Minnesota’s Drought Task Force met Thursday to coordinate and plan the state’s response.

The task force includes state, federal, local and tribal government representatives who have water management responsibility and expertise.

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The meeting included about 20 agencies as the state explores ways to respond to the months-long dry pattern. This week’s U.S. Drought Monitor update showed about 99 percent of Minnesota is in formal drought status.

Randall Doneen is conservation assistance and regulation section manager with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, and was part of the task force discussion.

“It really seems like the stream flows are the big issue right now. They’re really low (and that) could be having ecological effects,” he said. “It can be a challenge to monitor in low flows.”

There also are concerns about how the drought may be affecting wells. Doneen noted that with the end of the growing season, irrigation also will wind down for the year — meaning less stress on groundwater.

He said Minnesotans need to take steps to help conserve water.

“We really want to encourage Minnesotans to think consciously about how much water they’re using, and try to limit that water use so that we have this bountiful resource for years to come and future generations,” Doneen said.

DNR climatologist Luigi Romolo said that while winter snow helped Minnesota climb out of droughts during 2021 and 2022, the chances of that happening this year are slim. Parts of the state are well over a half-foot below normal rainfall since June 1.

“With these kinds of precipitation deficits it’s going to be really, really hard to get the amount of snowfall needed to get our soils back up to where they need to be,” he said. “So we’re going to need to rely not only on winter snowfall, but a healthy spring rainfall season.”

Effects on agriculture

Minnesota’s agriculture commissioner said this week that the current drought conditions have been tough on farmers.

Thom Petersen said parts of the state are now in exceptional drought — that’s the most-severe drought category — and nearly two-thirds of pasture land is in poor to very poor condition.

“This is still a time [of year] when you want to have cattle out on those pastures before winter hits, and that grass has dried up fast — and so that means you got to get into your hay supplies,” he said. “The good news is there’s quite a bit of hay out there for now, but it’s going to put a lot of stress on prices and everything else.”

Petersen said the lack of rain comes at a critical time of the growing season.

“[The] last couple of weeks … have been really kind of kick in the gut to a lot of our farmers,” he said. “We really needed that rain or two to help finish the crop off. Some of the crops may look great from the road, but they might have smaller ears or not as many soybeans in the pod.”

Petersen said sugar beets and potatoes in northwest Minnesota are in better shape.

MPR News reporters Hannah Yang and Kirsti Marohn contributed to this report.