Since the early 2000s, the thousands of people who use and live near White Bear Lake watched in dismay as the average lake level dropped 6 feet. Homeowners and business owners teamed with the lake’s restoration association to sue the state of Minnesota, alleging that the state’s Department of Natural Resources’ mismanagement of municipal well water permits was a deciding factor in the alarming water loss.
Ramsey County Judge Margaret Marrinan agreed, blaming the DNR for violating the public trust doctrine and the Minnesota Environmental Rights Act by issuing too many well permits, which in turn harmed the lake’s ecosystems and underlying aquifer.
“Our clients tried to make headway with the DNR without resorting to litigation, but it became clear that it wouldn’t turn out that way,” said Ciresi Conlin partner Katie Crosby Lehmann. “The report on the issue from the [U.S. Geological Survey Minnesota Water Science Center] showed that the lake was of important community interest.”
Joining Lehmann on the legal team were Michael V. Ciresi, Heather McElroy (Ciresi Conlin); Byron E. Starns, Daniel L. Scott (Stinson Leonard Street); and Richard B. Allyn (Robins Kaplan).
Marrinan’s ruling means the state must adopt tougher water-conservation measures, including reviewing all existing groundwater permits within 5 miles of White Bear Lake. If permits aren’t in compliance with sustainability standards, they must be reopened and downsized within six months.
“We were able to show that one of the main causes of the drop in water level was caused by humans, and that the DNR is able to control that,” said Lehmann.