In response to persisting drought conditions, Pequot Lakes residents who use the city’s water system were asked to reduce their nonessential outdoor water use.

Even though the area finally received several inches of rain in the past week and a half, it remains in a moderate fire risk, with no outdoor burning or campfires allowed as of Tuesday, Aug. 31. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources continued to list all of Cass County and a majority of Crow Wing County in “extreme drought” as of Tuesday.

“Under current conditions, it will take at least five to nine inches of precipitation spread over a period of about one month to significantly alleviate the drought. Soils are more efficiently replenished by multiple rainfall events than by any single heavy rainfall event,” the DNR website says.

Thus, the DNR issued requests for reduced use of public water systems.

Responding to that request, and in following the city’s wellhead protection plan, Pequot Lakes directed residents and businesses on the city’s public drinking water system to reduce all nonessential outdoor water use - such as watering lawns, gardens and trees - to one time per week. They’re also asked to refrain from car washing, power washing buildings and filling pools.

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“We also ask that residents be as mindful in their water usage as they can be. We will be working with our largest users on the system and asking them to reduce water use, especially during peak times,” a city notice said.

Pine River and Backus also have municipal water systems. Because of their smaller populations, those cities don’t have to issue any water restrictions.

Cities need permits from the DNR to pump water out of the ground, and cities with populations over 1,000 people must have drought plans, said Mike Hansen, Pine River public works director. Smaller cities with populations under 1,000 people must meet 50% of their January pumping totals, which Pine River was doing. Because of the drought, those recommendations were revised to 25% of January pumping totals.

“When that came out, we called our bigger water users who are irrigating and asked them to cut back on irrigating,” Hansen said. “We’ve been monitoring our aquifer and making sure we’re not in trouble.”

Andy Schwartz, operations manager with the Pine River Area Sanitary District, said Pequot Lakes’ wells and pumping levels also are in normal operating levels.

“People forget we had some really, really wet years in the past five to 10 years,” Schwartz said. “Aquifer levels are good.”

Water usage typically decreases in the fall, with peak use in summer.

“So in another couple months it will be easier to get to the levels the DNR is looking for,” Schwartz said.

He referred questions about the need to conserve water to Randall Doneen, conservation assistance and regulations section manager with the DNR’s Ecological and Water Resources in St. Paul. Doneen explained via email that in times of low water, people need to conserve water for the highest priority uses, which is drinking water. Water is also needed to sustain the aquatic ecosystems that depend on the water, he wrote.

“Minnesota has excellent water resources, but it is not an endless supply. By eliminating nonessential uses of water, we will be in a better position to ensure there is water for essential uses, such as drinking water, food production and ecosystem health,” Doneen said.

Aquifers are quite variable around the state, he said, with some being OK and others showing signs of potential overuse.

“Minnesota’s use of groundwater has increased dramatically in the last 20 years, and this is a resource we need to manage carefully to ensure water is available for future generations,” he said.

Water users who depend on surface water (specifically river flows) are at the highest risk for not having water available. The DNR has been suspending surface water appropriations in watersheds with low flow across the state all summer. The law requires the suspensions so water is available for instream uses and downstream domestic water supplies, Doneen wrote.

The river flows can become so low that water intakes for public water supplies are unable to get the water they need.

“We do not have any reported cases of this occurring yet, but everyone conserving water will keep more water in the system to hopefully prevent this from occurring,” he said.

Doneen encouraged people who are interested in receiving weekly updates and other drought information as it becomes available to sign up for email updates at https://www.dnr.state.mn.us/climate/drought/index.html.

Nancy Vogt may be reached at 218-855-5877 or nancy.vogt@pineandlakes.com. Follow her on Facebook and on Twitter at www.twitter.com/@PEJ_Nancy.