Midwestern Minnesota experiences moderate drought, keeping an eye out for falling water levels

June 19 – SPICER – Crops are under stress and communities in west-central Minnesota are urging residents to conserve water by not watering their lawns.

In New London, workers last week opened a low-water diversion on the Mill Pond Dam to provide water flow to the Crow River and prevent the death of fish. The current dam was built in 2011, and this is only the second time that the low water diversion has been required, according to Ethan Jenzen, a hydrologist at the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources in Spicer.

Jenzen monitors surface and groundwater conditions in the region. At this point, he has not received any calls regarding well interference issues due to the dry conditions. He said Willmar was closely monitoring the levels of his groundwater resources and had not seen any significant changes at this point.

According to the Minnesota State Climatology Office, some problems are emerging in the state. It reports lower water levels in a cluster of wells in parts of Stevens and Pope counties, as well as Pipestone and Rock counties.

With all of that in mind, Jenzen said now is the time to be proactive and encourage water conservation. “If we can save money on the front end, we won’t have to recover that long on the back end.”

Even with the hoped-for rains expected on Sunday, the region is experiencing a significant water deficit. It will take time to recover in terms of moisture for crops and to recharge aquifers, he said.

With the exception of an eastern portion of Meeker County, every county in west-central Minnesota is now officially experiencing moderate drought, according to the US Drought Monitor. About 60 percent of the state experiences moderate drought.

Kandiyohi County recorded its 12th driest May in 127 years of record keeping, and this June is on track to be one of the driest on all time: rainfall levels are currently 1.79 inches below normal for the month in Kandiyohi County, according to the Drought Monitor. .

The region recorded nine consecutive days with temperatures over 90 degrees in June, the longest period of 90 degrees in June since 1933. The warm temperatures served to accelerate evaporation, which is evident in the drop in the level. lakes throughout the region. “Low enough for the season” is how the hydrologist described the lake levels in the region.

Streams and rivers also flow well below seasonal norms. Flows on the Crow, Chippewa and other area streams are “at the lowest normal level,” Jenzen said.

To date, no fish deaths directly attributed to warm temperatures have been reported in the area, according to Dave Coahran, DNR fisheries supervisor in Spicer. Its staff responded to the deaths of around 700 to 1,000 fish on Lake Calhoun, mainly sunfish, sunfish and bullhead. The fish were too poorly decomposed to be analyzed, but the death is believed to have been caused by Columaris, he said. The bacteria are found naturally in lakes.

However, the current situation does not correspond to the water deficits or the problems encountered in 2012-13 or 1988, according to Jenzen. In 2012-13, Jenzen said there were localized well interference issues, but not widespread issues.

Residential water use is a priority when it comes to water allocation, and many communities in the region have worked with MNR on comprehensive water management programs to ensure an adequate supply during dry periods. Irrigators in the Bonanza Valley, which includes parts of Kandiyohi, Pope, Meeker and Stearns County, are part of a groundwater management zone. This made possible a comprehensive monitoring program to track water levels in aquifers, Jenzen said.

He said the region has seen the number of groundwater permits issued continue to rise in recent years, but said that does not necessarily mean that groundwater use has increased. The region has made significant progress in recent years in more efficient use of water, he said.

The hydrologist said drought is part of the natural climate cycle, but he also pointed out that there have been significant fluctuations in the weather in recent years. In 2014, lake levels were high enough to exceed some of the gauges. And as recently as 2019, eastern Meeker County was reporting precipitation totals just below all-time highs.

“We went from extremely high water levels to low water levels in just two years. Quite a change,” Jenzen said. “It would be nice to spend some time in the middle.”

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