DNR offers tips to homeowners dealing with domestic well issues in Polk and Red Lake counties

July 22, 2021

Minnesota is now in a Drought Warning, and current conditions are leading to some domestic out-of-water calls. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has guidance and resources that can help.

As of July 22, about half of Polk County is experiencing severe drought and the rest of the county is experiencing extreme drought. Most of Red Lake County is experiencing extreme drought. These conditions are affecting the groundwater supply in southern Red Lake and central Polk counties. Residents rely on this water for uses including irrigation for agriculture, municipal water supply and private (domestic) wells.

Increased groundwater use and the lack of groundwater recharge during the drought it difficult for the aquifer system to supply water to all groundwater users, leading to an increase in domestic out-of-water calls in this area.

Why is this happening?
Groundwater is stored and moves slowly underground through geologic formations of soil, sand and rock called aquifers. These aquifer layers range from a few feet to almost 100 feet thick. Most aquifers are naturally recharged by rainfall or other surface water that infiltrates into the ground.

Many domestic wells within this area pump groundwater from the shallow aquifers located within 100 feet of the ground surface. Wells used for irrigation and municipal water supplies often pump from deeper aquifers that can lower the water level of shallower aquifers, especially during a drought. Groundwater levels in some areas can decline during the irrigation season and cause problems for domestic wells near irrigation well sites, especially those with flowing domestic wells.

What can people do to avoid an out-of-water situation?

  1. Encourage all family members to conserve water as much as possible. Water use impacts the well water level. For ideas about indoor and outdoor water conservation visit: DNR Water Conservation webpage and https://www.ready.gov/drought
  2. Have an emergency plan for the family, bottled water handy, and the name and number of a licensed well driller.
  3. Be aware of changes in the well, the water from the well and the area around the well. Changes in how often the pump runs, or in the smell or color of the water, can be signs of potential problems.

What if people go out of water?

  1. Call a licensed well driller at the first sign of trouble. Many drillers are very busy during the drought, so they might not be able to visit right away.
  2. If there is a high-volume water user nearby, contact that user and try to work out a solution together.
  3. If you are unable to restore your water supply, contact the DNR’s well interference coordinator at 651-259-5034 or the DNR area hydrologist for Polk and Red Lake counties at 218-219-8585.

What does the DNR do if I cannot get water in my well?

We encourage domestic well owners and high-capacity users to work together to solve problems collaboratively. If resolution cannot be reached privately, the DNR will conduct a fair and impartial investigation to determine the cause of the out-of-water. Because domestic water use is allocated the highest priority of the state’s water when supplies are limited, high-capacity well owners can be responsible to restore a water supply if they are found to have caused the problem.

Domestic well owners and municipal water suppliers that have problems obtaining water and believe the situation is due the operation of a high capacity well that pumps in excess of 10,000 gallons per day or one million gallons per year can submit a "Well Interference Complaint” to the DNR for investigation.

Before the DNR will investigate a well interference complaint, the well owner must have the well inspected by a licensed well driller to determine if the water supply problems are related to the condition of the domestic well. 

More information on the well interference process is available at https://www.dnr.state.mn.us/waters/watermgmt_section/appropriations/interference.html

The DNR continues to closely monitor groundwater use and levels associated with the collective pumping of high-capacity wells and is working with all water users to protect our surface and groundwater resources while trying to minimize economic impacts.