“Where is the Water in White Bear Lake?” is Here

Exactly three weeks ago, my video “Where is the Water in White Bear Lake?” had its premiere. Some of you might recall my post over two years ago, when I first started filming for this project. The work actually began in the fall of 2011, when I requested and later received a grant from the Suburban Ramsey/Washington County Cable Commission to create a program about the low water levels in White Bear Lake, the centerpiece of my community.

When I first visited Minnesota over 25 years ago, I “discovered” and fell in love with the astonishingly beautiful and varied freshwater here. Later, after working in public health and contemplating what might be the most personally meaningful and impactful issue I could work on, I decided to focus on the sustainability of water. It’s critical for all creatures to survive and thrive, yet in so many ways and places it’s under threat. I saw the situation of White Bear Lake as an opportunity to learn about and explore different aspects of a water crisis in the making, and to engage others in this process as well.

Working on the video, I talked with scientists, attended presentations, studied maps, and was present for different hydrological monitoring activities. During the drilling of a well over 600 feet down into the Mount Simon aquifer, I witnessed a cross-section of geological layers progressively brought up by the drill. I felt humbled to see how interconnected we are to past millennia, through water.

As I talked with different people, I got a sense of the politics, social dynamics, and varieties of personal meaning the lake has for people locally and regionally. For me, working on the video was like spending precious time with an ailing friend. While recognizing how the face of the lake has changed, I’ve continued to feel that White Bear Lake has a unique and delightful spirit. I was happy to have an excuse to spend time together. In fact, I typically had great fun when I was out by the lake with my video camera, capturing images of the water and meeting new people who were open and generous with their thoughts, stories, and time.

As I gathered more and more information—and hours and hours of footage—I struggled greatly trying to decide how to tell this story. I wondered how much technical and political and social information to provide, how much of my own voice (both figuratively and literally) to include, and how to end my story in the midst of an evolving situation. During months of “writer’s block,” and months chipping away at editing, I was helped along by feedback and encouragement from friends, associates, and a documentary filmmakers group I belong to. A friend willing to help with camera work, and others who provided sound and animation expertise all generously lent their time and skills when there were things I couldn’t manage on my own. Now I’m relieved to find myself at the other end. Completion is sweet.

Yet, the completion of my video is also what I hope will be the beginning of a shared conversation among us, and new or expanding relationship between you, water, and White Bear Lake.


2 Responses to ““Where is the Water in White Bear Lake?” is Here”

  1. 1 James Markoe
    August 6, 2014 at 1:07 am


    Thank you for your excellent video about White Bear Lake and the broader water issues represented by the lake’s continuing low water levels. While almost every other water body in the Twin Cities is at record high water, WBL continues to languish at three feet below ordinary high water.
    I was introduced to your film belatedly through the recent MPR news story about the ongoing debate on how to better manage our water. I am so grateful for your work to intelligently illuminate the crisis facing the lake and the important lessons we need to learn from its degradation.
    I am a fifth generation native of WBL. My wife and I chose to move back to the Twin Cities from Maine fifteen years ago in part to raise our children on the shores of this beloved water. My great great grandparents built one of the first summer cottages on the lake in 1857. The tiny house still stands at the corner of Lake Avenue and Shady Lane. The picture shown in your video of the Native American burial mounds was just down from their cottage, and I am believe the burial mound image came through the White Bear Lake Area Historical Society – led by my cousin Sara Markoe Hanson. When our ancestors first started spending summers at the lake they were often visited by native people coming back in the spring to visit their ancestors’ burial place. As you may know WBL was a gathering place for both Sioux and Ojibwe people in the spring and we still revere its sacred nature.

    With gratitude,

    Jim Markoe

    • 2 Amy
      August 6, 2014 at 1:40 pm

      Thank you so much for your comments about the video, and for sharing your personal and family history with the lake. Hearing about the days when both your ancestors and Native people were here is especially fascinating to me. The White Bear Lake Area Historical Society was indeed very helpful in supplying photographs for use in the video – what a wonderful resource they are! We’re blessed to live in such a remarkable place. My hope, though, is that all who view this video will reflect on their own special relationship with a pond, lake, river or stream, and recognize a similar calling to protect our waters.

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