Posts Tagged ‘water conservation


“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.


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.

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