New water project

From this blog or otherwise, you probably know I have a special interest in water. This week I started video production on a new documentary about regional issues of water use, that I’m guessing will have a lot to say about our consciousness and management of water in Minnesota.

Right here in the northeast Twin Cities metro area, the water levels in many lakes have been steadily decreasing in recent years to historical lows. The reasons for this have not been clear. Around White Bear Lake, the situation has obviously impacted residents and businesses on the lake. But it’s also seriously compromised the lake’s recreational features, likely affected local tourism, and been a major downer for a community whose identity is centered around this beautiful and historical body of water.

Moonrise over White Bear Lake, January 2012

This past year city, county, state and federal governments collaborated to support research by the US Geological Survey (USGS) to determine the cause of White Bear’s lake level declines. The findings to date were presented at a White Bear Lake Conservation District meeting this week.

One of my most formative experiences when first coming to Minnesota was taking a limnology field course at Lake Itasca, and I’ve been something of a water geek ever since. I’m still trying to get a handle on all the USGS study findings, but am fascinated by the methods they used – sampling wells to look at isotopic markers of different water sources, using a submarine EcoMapper to sample water quality along the lake bottom to find indications of seepage, examining well pumping volumes over time, etc. – to figure out what may be going on.

If you’re interested, you can soon view the findings at the USGS website. In a nutshell, the data indicate that our recent decline in lake levels are associated with greater pumping from high capacity wells (commercial, municipal, and irrigation) that has come with increased development in nearby cities. To a lesser extent, the decline also reflects a decrease in precipitation over the last several years. It’s pretty clear that our water use and water bodies in the area are directly linked through the Prairie du Chien aquifer below us.

What happens next will be the main subject of this film. I’m especially interested in capturing the community and planning discussions, as well as any policies and/or actions that may result.

This week at the Conservation District meeting, working with the videography and production assistance of Tim Splinter, we were able to capture a range of questions from the Board and residents during the meeting itself, as well as additional comments from local residents, a business owner, and a civil engineer. The meeting room itself was packed.

Among the people we talked with was Fletcher Driscoll, a distinguished hydrogeologist and lakeshore resident. His comments mirror the feeling I have that we may be entering a new era in our relationship to water here in Minnesota.


2 Responses to “New water project”

  1. February 26, 2012 at 3:08 pm

    Amy, I’m very excited for the documentary and your connection to it. Love it. You’re on an important story. I am also impressed with the lighting and audio in the video clip. You have mad skills, sista.

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