St. Paul, MN (KROC-AM News) - Thirty-six percent of Minnesota is experiencing severe drought, 35% is experiencing extreme drought, and 7% is experiencing extreme to exceptional drought. That is why the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources is working on its next steps in drought response.

According to a news release from the Minnesota DNR, three major watersheds have entered the drought restrictive phase. The Mississippi River Headwaters watershed, the Rainy River watershed, and the Red River watershed are experiencing extreme to exceptional drought that necessitates further restrictions on water use to protect drinking water supplies.

The entire state of Minnesota entered the drought warning phase in mid-July, and conditions have worsened in much of Minnesota, particularly in northern Minnesota over the last month. In fact, for the first time since the drought intensity classification scale was implemented in 2000, a portion of Minnesota has entered the exceptional drought intensity classifcation. Climactic factors that are used to categorize drought, and the possible impacts observed in each category, are explained in the U.S. Drought Monitor’s Drought Classification.

U.S Drought Monitor
U.S Drought Monitor

The criteria for designation of a drought restrictive phase are specified in the Minnesota Statewide Drought Plan and include the drought severity rating and, for the Mississippi River, flow rates at the Brooklyn Park gauge operated by the U.S. Geological Service.

With this restrictive phase designation for the Mississippi River Headwaters, Rainy River and Red River watersheds, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and others are taking additional steps, including:

  • Notifying water appropriators with DNR permits that they should minimize non-essential water uses and follow water conservation measures, such as reducing landscape irrigation, using more efficient irrigation equipment, and checking for and repairing water leaks. Water appropriation permit holders can contact the local DNR area hydrologist for technical assistance or with any questions.
  • Notifying public water suppliers within these watersheds to implement water use reduction actions with a goal of reducing water use to 25% above January levels. Residents, businesses and landowners should watch for communications from their municipal or public water supplier for details on local water use reduction actions and restrictions. Restrictions on non-essential water uses (such as outdoor irrigation, car washes, etc.) may be enacted as public water suppliers take steps to achieve water reduction goals.
  • Increasing public awareness of drought conditions.

The Minnesota DNR is continuing to suspend or modify water appropriation permits for non-priority water users as conditions warrant in specific watersheds.

More information about this process, including a map of watersheds where non-priority permits are currently subject to suspension, is available on DNR’s drought management webpage.

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. Surface water and groundwater respond somewhat differently over time.

Drought is a naturally occurring feature of Minnesota’s climate. Some level of moderate and severe drought typically occurs in the state almost every year for at least a few weeks. Most severe drought in Minnesota is short-lived, but drought in Minnesota can, during very persistent dry conditions, enter the extreme intensity classification.

The current drought is not as severe as the historic droughts of 1988-89 or the 1930s, but it is intensifying, bringing significant challenges to many individuals and businesses and contributing to dangerous wildfire conditions.

“The DNR is implementing the Statewide Drought Plan, which includes significant water use reduction goals for public water suppliers,” DNR Ecological and Water Resources Division Director Katie Smith said. “These water use reductions can be difficult but are necessary to ensure water is available for the highest priority uses, such as drinking water.”

The DNR is encouraging Minnesotans to learn how much water they are using compared to the average American home, and identify ways to reduce water use now and in the future.

Today, more than 75% of Minnesotans rely on groundwater for their water supply.

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