Both chambers of the Minnesota legislature have approved legislation that places a hold on new groundwater appropriation permit requirements imposed by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources as a result of a Minnesota district court's 2017 order.
The legislation would prohibit the DNR from modifying permits or taking enforcement action based on the 2017 order, and would suspend the required changes for public water suppliers outlined in the order. Governor Dayton has said that he does not oppose the legislation.
The District Court's 2017 Findings and Order
In August 2017, the district court found the DNR to have committed violations of the Public Trust Doctrine and the Minnesota Environmental Rights Act through its permitting and management of high capacity groundwater appropriations around White Bear Lake and within the Prairie du Chien-Jordan aquifer. The district court's decision ordered the DNR to review all existing groundwater appropriation permits within a 5-mile radius of White Bear Lake within one year, and to require the permittees within that radius to submit contingency plans for conversion to surface water sources for their water supply.
The DNR's post-trail motions included arguments stating that the district court's ruling was not supported by the best science available and created precedent that could impose unnecessary burdens on Minnesota citizens.
In January 2018, the DNR sought to stay the district court judgment, amend the judgment, and grant a new trial.
In March 2018, the district court issued an order responding to the DNR's January 2018 motions. The district court denied the request to amend its order and for a new trial. It stated that it applied the Public Trust Doctrine pursuant to existing law in finding that the DNR violated this doctrine by causing continual decline in aquifer levels and causing an adverse impact to lake size, and failing to remedy these impacts. The district court further stated that it did not create new law by applying state law retroactively to find that the DNR violated MERA by impairing White Bear Lake and the Prairie du Chien Aquifer.
The district court further denied the request for a stay of its 2017 order, stating that permit holders were on notice of the case and did not choose to join the litigation, and that the order of the district court provides sufficient detail for the DNR to carry out the permit review and other elements of the order in the face of potential legal challenges brought by permit holders. The district court concluded that the 2017 order would not have significant impacts on activities, including construction, within five miles of White Bear Lake, and that the DNR's history of failing to comply with state requirements would put at further risk the preservation of finite water resources should the district court issue a stay.