Q DNR Waters oversees surface and ground water. How is water use monitored?
Ground water and surface water are more interconnected than most people would believe. Water supply and demand are not evenly distributed across the state.
The DNR regulates appropriation of water. If somebody is going to use more than 10,000 gallons a day or a million gallons a year, they have to get a permit. And with large-water users comes monitoring requirements. Groundwater levels in various aquifers around the state are monitored with over 750 observation wells. In addition, the DNR measures lake levels and stream flow. We also have climatologists who manage precipitation data from over 1,500 observers. So across the state we're measuring all facets: what's coming out of the sky, what's on the ground, and what's underground.
Q What is DNR Waters' role in protecting wetlands?
We've regulated waters in Minnesota since 1937. I started with the DNR in the '70s, and that is when the definition of public waters changed. Before then a body of water had to have a beneficial public use -- meaning you had to have access to it and be able to use it. The new definition changed to encompass waters with a beneficial public purpose -- such as groundwater recharge, nutrient entrapment, fish and wildlife habitat. That change greatly expanded what was regulated in terms of wetlands. The 1979 legislation defined the size and type of wetland DNR would regulate. It's 10 acres or larger for wetlands in unincorporated areas and 2.5 acres or larger in incorporated areas. We identified 276,000 acres of public waters wetlands, so it's a small fraction of the state's 8.5 million acres of wetlands.
Q What are the greatest challenges facing DNR Waters?
We deal with the extremes: flood and drought. Last year, in 2007, for example, we had a flood in Browns Valley in the spring, and we had a flood in southeastern Minnesota in the fall. At the same time, we had extremely dry weather and drought conditions in the northern half of the state. What I've often told people is: We don't have water problems; what we have are people problems. Water is going to fluctuate. Problems occur when people interfere with that either by building in the wrong spot and getting flooded or by trying to manipulate the water system.
Q How can citizens help meet those challenges?
Responsible development and responsible management, conservation of water -- you know the water we have is all the water we have, so we do need to manage it.
Q How is DNR Waters changing the way it regulates docks?
What we've seen in the last decade is the growing size of docks. But when someone wants 400 square feet at the end of the dock, that's no longer a dock, that's a deck. We're managing public waters for the benefit of the public. The lake is not valuable because there are homes around it; the homes are valuable because they are on water. We issued a general permit this year that provided for a platform at the end of the dock of 120 square feet in addition to the dock itself. And some people think that's too big; some people think that's too small. We will be doing rulemaking to address this issue.
Q What worries you most?
What, me worry? I'm a civil engineer by training. I look at problems and determine solutions. Certainly we have a growing population, a growing demand for water. We've been charged by statute to ensure that there is an adequate supply of water for the future. We just passed a Great Lakes compact to protect the Great Lakes from diversions to the arid south or to outside the watershed. Long-term water supply is something we need to continue to research, continue to gather information about. We have highly technical staff, and more resources have to be put toward those issues to be able to answer the questions.