This summer is also the third warmest on record for Minnesota.
“It’s looking like we’re stuck in a pattern where we might see some locally higher amounts of precipitation, but nothing widespread, unfortunately,” Rick said. “The models are showing continuing below-normal precipitation and higher than average temperatures.”
Daren Hoverson is a Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) hydrologist in Park Rapids.
“In some area lakes, the lower water levels are creating watercraft access limitations at boat ramps – boat lifts are out of water or too shallow to get the boat on and off, and other difficulties for recreation and navigation,” he said. “This includes streams that are so shallow that you are unable to motor a medium to larger boat between lake basins, and in some cases kayakers, canoeists and tubers are having to get out and drag through shallow areas of streams.
“We are also hearing from livestock farmers about watering holes needing maintenance so cattle can reach the water, as well as other typical, drought-related crop stresses to non-irrigated crops.”
On the positive side, Hoverson said, lower water levels can be healthy for the lake by consolidating soft sediment, promoting emergent aquatic plant growth and improving some near-shore habitats.
“Some lakes and the Kabekona River are being affected by the drought this summer, along with backyard ponds,” said Jake Shaughnessy, a water quality resource technician with the Hubbard County Soil and Water Conservation District. “There are a handful of lakes that are noticeably lower and some resorts have gained more beach area. Some have also had to move their docks out further.”
Ellen Considine is a DNR hydrologist supervisor in St. Paul.
“Water levels in the shallow aquifer are generally at typical levels, though at some wells the water levels have started declining,” she said. “Sandpoint wells are shallow, so falling groundwater levels affect sandpoint wells before other, deeper wells. In this area, water levels in the deeper aquifer are routinely lowered during the summer when groundwater is being pumped, and then groundwater levels recover during the winter. Water levels in the deeper aquifer are at typical levels for this time of year.”
Torkelson said sandpoint wells are most impacted by low water tables, especially those with normally low levels of water.
“What’s happening is the water table is dropping and uncovering the top part of the screen, and you’re getting air coming through the sand mixed with the water,” he said.
So far he’s only seen six wells with serious issues. “The others are still working, just not working as they should,” he said.
The two main symptoms of a well in an area where the water table has dropped too low is a lot of air in the water coming out of the faucet and the well pump running longer than normal. Using less water won’t help this problem.
“Water used by a household is a miniscule amount compared to the amount of water we have in the ground,” he said. “You normally can’t pump enough to run the well dry, even if you were pumping all day long.”
Considine said all irrigators are encouraged to use water conservation measures and only irrigate when needed. Irrigators that draw water from streams can be shut off when streamflow reaches a critically low level, but irrigators that draw water from groundwater are typically only shut off if a domestic water supply is endangered.
More information on well depth and locations is available through the Minnesota Well Index at www.health.state.mn.us/mwi.
A groundwater resource with an interactive online map that includes water level hydrographs from over 1,000 groundwater observation wells in the state is online at www.dnr.state.mn.us/waters/cgm/index.html.
“The water table has definitely been lowered this summer,” said Parker Torkelson, owner of Torkelson Well Service in Nevis. “Look at the lake levels.”
Torkelson said as long as the pump is running and producing water, homeowners can continue to use it and just put up with the sputtering.
“If you’re used to hearing your pump run for five minutes and now it’s taking 20 minutes, that’s a sign it’s struggling to get enough water to shut off,” he said. “If we get some good rains, I think things could change quite a bit.”
Torkelson said, “Belle Taine is doing pretty good because there are a lot of springs, and I think Spider and Long Lake also have good water levels.”
Joe Kauhlmann, a natural resource technician with the DNR forestry division in Detroit Lakes, said this summer’s drought is impacting trees, with the youngest trees being the most vulnerable.
“Many of the young pines have already turned brown and died,” he said. “In deciduous trees, leaves may be curling up or falling off. In some areas you can see that in hazel bush and oaks. I’ve seen some aspens that have dropped yellow leaves on the ground and oak leaves falling off occasionally as a result of it being so dry.”
He said drought also stresses trees and makes them more susceptible to disease.
“With pines, if bark beetles are after it and there’s a drought, it’s going to hit the tree harder,” he said.
Larger trees have deeper roots to reach down for moisture and generally fare better during droughts.
“But now we’re getting to the point where you’ve got really dry dirt even two to three feet into the ground, where normally there is decent moisture,” he said. “It helps to water trees at residences, when possible, by soaking them with a hose, even mature trees. It’s going to take a lot of rain, rain every two or three days, to get out of this drought.”
He said fire danger continues to be a major concern. “Each day we don’t get rain it is slowly going downhill,” he said.