Carlson '100% comfortable' with City water capacity, but diligence needed

But if drought extends into next summer, he says there will be an impact

Mike Christopherson

The periodic, required process that involves inspecting the City of Crookston’s well-fields, located east of Crookston along Minnesota Highway 32, and monitoring their water output and other related data, allowed Public Works Director Brandon Carlson to update the city council this week on how things are going with the wells, and things the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources had indicated it would like to see done.

“Every 10 years we look at and evaluate our plan,” Carlson said. “For the most part, it’s about measures to ensure we have adequate drinking water for the future.”

Given the drought that the region is currently experiencing, the information provided by Carlson seems certainly more timely and newsworthy, if not urgent. He stressed that, even with the drought, the City pumps an amount of water that’s well below the wells’ maximum capacity, and that he’s confident the City’s aquifer will not get drawn down to a point that causes any great concern.

But there are some things worthy of keeping an eye on, and maybe a closer eye on going forward, Carlson noted, and some of those things are being suggested by the DNR.

Recent history

Around four years ago, a farmer near Mentor got a preliminary permit to put in an irrigation well. In a typical process, the well is pumped and the person requesting it doesn’t get final approval until the well is proven sustainable by the results of the initial pumping.

“Well, the farmer got sick of waiting, so he started irrigating fields with the well,” Carlson said.

The DNR subsequently reached out to the City, he said, and as a result of that communication more monitoring devices were added to the wells in the City’s east and west well-fields. The impact of the new irrigation well on the City’s well-fields was minimal, Carlson noted, adding that a couple residential wells nearby were significantly impacted.

The City’s east well-field was dug in 2004, and the west field, the City’s original well-field, was dug in the early 1980s. The west field has the capacity to pump 440 millions a year, Carlson said, adding that the City pumps around 140 million a year from that field. The east field has the capacity to pump 500 million gallons of water a year; the City pumps around 170 million gallons a hear, he noted.

“We’re well below the limit,” Carlson said. “Do I think our well-field can sustain a billion gallons a year? Absolutely not. But I don’t foresee us ever getting there.”

If large industries that need high volumes of water ever want to come to Crookston, Carlson said it would be wise for the City to work with the DNR and “give the aquifer a good look before we commit to anything.”

The expanding gravel pits along U.S. Highway 2 between Crookston and its well-fields is another relatively new development that could impact the City’s wells, Carlson said. It’s in the City’s plan that the City will work with the gravel companies, he noted.

“In a roundabout way they’re a direct contamination source if there’s any kind of spill in their pits,” he said.

Perhaps the biggest thing on the horizon is an aquifer study on tap for 2025 that Carlson said the DNR wants to be involved in, specific to the east well-field.

“We’ll stick a pump down the well and pump it for a day or two or a week” and then monitor the data like groundwater depth, water pressure and output, he explained. “That helps you get a good feel for if you were to increase pumping by, say, 100 million gallons a year, it’ll let you know if it’s sustainable or not.”

The DNR of late is especially interested in water-conservation practices and protecting water systems from cyber-attacks, Carlson said.

Local water restrictions

Carlson stressed that the local water restrictions put in place by the city council this week aren’t being spurred by any urgent concerns about water supply for Crookston. He said he’s “100% comfortable with our current pumping that we have sustainable water.” The restrictions, Carlson stressed, are about “encouraging responsible use of water” and not a concern about “running out of water.”

“I’m not concerned about our current situation, but we’re doing our due diligence to keep an eye on it,” he said.

If the drought persists into the summer of 2022, however, Carlson added, “There’s no doubt you’d see an impact.”