Parched SW Minnesota looks to bring in water

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WORTHINGTON, Minn. (AP) - Heavy irrigation in farm country and increasing demand in the Twin Cities have raised recent concern among many Minnesotans about the adequacy of their water supplies.

It’s an old problem in southwestern Minnesota, but one that is getting more expensive to solve.

Just this spring, for example, the city of Marshall is laying a $13 million, 27-mile pipe to bring water to its residents and businesses. Not far away, the small town of Mountain Lake, where water levels have dropped, plans this summer to spend a half million dollars for a new well and even then might not get the quality it would like. And the cities of Worthington and Luverne are hoping to convince the Legislature in coming weeks to spend nearly $70 million to let them bring water from South Dakota, Minnesota Public Radio (http://bit.ly/1ka51gs ) reported.

Some worry that the region’s ability to grow economically is at stake. On the other hand, the sense of water awareness many residents and businesses here have developed over the years may be a lesson for other Minnesotans.

“Never enough, never enough supply,” is how Leonard Swenson sums the issue up. The retired Dawson area farmer spent years and thousands of dollars searching unsuccessfully for adequate water on his farm.

In the 1960s and 1970s he drilled at least five wells that failed to yield anything, each for about a thousand dollars. For more than two decades, he spent about $600 a year to have a delivery man truck in water just for the household.

“He had a thousand-gallon tank on the truck, and he’d drive up. And we’d have to have two loads a month,” said Swenson. “So it was not a good thing at all.”

Swenson eventually was able to hook up to a rural water system that piped a high quality supply to his farm. But even though better distribution systems have solved some problems, water troubles persist in the region today.

In April, for example, the Mankato-based Center for Rural Policy and Development wondered in a report, “How many cities that would otherwise have growing economies are held back because their water supply or their infrastructure is strained to the point where the state must impose a moratorium on adding one more home bathroom or business restroom?”

Bar owner Diane Radtke was not happy as she scooped up ice cubes in her downtown Mountain Lake business. She pointed to a cloudy layer in each cube that she said came from the extra minerals in the city water supply.

“We need help,” said Radtke.

Over the past decade the town’s wells have gradually pumped less and less water. Mountain Lake officials aren’t sure exactly why, but they believe it’s a combination of demand, drought and the general lack of groundwater in this part of the state. At this point, the city of about 2,100 residents doesn’t have enough water to run its filtration system efficiently, so minerals remain in the supply, hurting the water’s appearance and taste.

Standing on the north side of town, Mountain Lake water superintendent Kevin Krahn recalled a yearslong effort to find water.

“We did one test well there,” he said, pointing. “We went down below in the park and did three test wells there and just never came up with any formation worth actually drilling a well.”

Last year, the city finally found a promising site and plans to drill a new well later this year. The city’s cost for the well and the connecting pipeline will be about $500,000.

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