Drought, Surface Water Permit Suspensions, and Groundwater
By Carmelita Nelson and Dan Miller – DNR Ecological and Water Resources
Drought is a naturally occurring aspect of Minnesota’s climate. Droughts affect agriculture, water resources, power supply, tourism and recreation, forestry, fisheries and wildlife, wildfire, human health and many other factors. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is working with all water users to protect our surface and groundwater resources while trying to minimize economic impacts. Because we do not know how long this drought will last, it is imperative to conserve and use water efficiently.
Depending on your water source, there are three ways that drought can impact golf course water supplies:
- · Groundwater: There has been no discussion of groundwater suspension for any water use. The main exception is well interference investigations.
- · Surface water: water appropriation suspensions are occurring on a watershed by watershed basis.
- · City Water: Those golf courses connected to city water will need to comply with individual municipal requirements.
Procedures and plans are in place for dealing with drought
Legislation enacted in 1990 mandated the DNR to prepare a drought plan. This plan provides a framework for responding to droughts, to minimize conflicts and negative impacts on Minnesota's natural resources and economy.
The DNR and partner agencies have extensive climate and water monitoring networks. Each week, the State Climatology Office within the DNR works closely with the authors of the United States Drought Monitor Map at www.droughtmonitor.unl.edu to ensure that drought conditions in Minnesota are depicted accurately. The map is updated each Thursday. These data, plus the State Drought Plan and existing laws, guide actions during a drought.
Drought impacts on surface water are more visible than impacts on groundwater. One of the reasons we are seeing reduced stream flow is because it has been dry since last summer, and especially dry since early March of this year. That means any rainfall we get will replenish soil moisture before it can contribute to stream flow in many areas of the state.
Surface Water Suspensions
During a drought, surface water rules are quite different from groundwater rules. If flow reaches a critical level in a river or stream, the DNR must suspend surface water appropriations from that lake, stream or river. We do this to protect fish and wildlife habitat within the stream and to maintain water availability for other users downstream.
This summer, we’ve suspended a number of different surface water appropriation permit types including: agricultural crop irrigation, golf course irrigation, landscape and athletic field irrigation, wild rice irrigation, sod farm irrigation, cemetery irrigation, nursery irrigation, mine processing, construction-related activities, pipeline and tank testing, dust control, and sand and gravel washing.
A total of 15 golf course surface water permit suspensions have been issued out of a total of 143 surface water permit suspensions across 16 watersheds. Below are the number of golf courses and the watershed location where surface water permit suspensions have occurred through July 28, 2021:
- · St. Louis River and Cloquet River watersheds: 6
- · Crow Wing River watershed: 1
- · Mustinka River watershed: 1
- · Mississippi River – Grand Rapids watershed: 4
- · Mississippi River – Brainerd watershed: 1
- · Sand Hill River watershed: 1
- · Big Fork River watershed: 1
Some permit holders have a contingency water supply, such as a well, to use while their surface water appropriation is suspended. Many other permit holders do not have an alternate source of water available. If you are considering applying for a permit to use water from a surface water, it is important to consider what you would use during a drought.
You can keep track of stream flows near your golf course by going to the DNR Weekly Stream Flow Map: https://www.dnr.state.mn.us/waters/surfacewater_section/stream_hydro/streamflow_weekly.html
- 1. If your golf course is in an area in red, then DNR either suspended or is reviewing permits for the potential of a suspension due to low water levels and flows.
- 2. If your golf course is in an orange area, and there is little or no rain, it may turn red in the future and you should be considering what source of water you will use if your surface water source is suspended.
- 3. If the area where your course is located is green, then flows are currently normal, but you should be prepared for changes.
- 4. The maps are updated weekly and posted on Mondays.
The DNR will continue to monitor water levels and flows across the state and keep you informed of any potential changes to surface water appropriation permits. If you have questions about a surface water appropriation permit, please contact your local DNR area hydrologist. You can find a list of staff and the territory they cover at the following website: https://files.dnr.state.mn.us/waters/area_hydros.pdf.
Sharing the Groundwater
Groundwater use permits for golf course irrigation are generally not suspended, with two main exceptions. If there is a technical groundwater analysis and report characterizing the impact groundwater pumping has on a nearby surface water, then the permit may be suspended. There is only one golf course where this has occurred.
Additionally, your groundwater appropriation could be suspended if the DNR receives out-of-water complaints from neighboring homeowners who file a Well Interference Complaint. In 2021, DNR staff are seeing an increase in domestic out-of-water calls, in Polk, Grant, Kandiyohi, Pope and Marshall Counties. All 12 of these investigations have involved agricultural irrigation.
The DNR has been helping to resolve well interference complaints for more than 45 years. This saves everyone the burden of legal costs and time spent in court. The DNR’s well interference reports are thorough and science-based. While all efforts are made to avoid suspending groundwater permits during the growing season, state law mandates that drinking water is available as the highest priority for water use. It is possible that irrigation may have to stop temporarily, if a domestic water supply is interrupted.
During this summer of drought, all irrigators (including agricultural, cemetery, nursery and landscape and athletic field irrigators) are encouraged to maintain their systems to the highest efficiency, minimize irrigation to the extent possible, and cooperate with neighboring water users and homeowners. To learn more, sign up to receive GovDelivery drought email updates from the DNR at: https://www.dnr.state.mn.us/climate/drought/index.html.