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Lake Minnetonka Water Level Drops to Lowest of 2012

State calls drought situation "dire" going into the 2013 growing season; lack of precipitation has led to a sharp drop in lake and stream levels throughout Minnesota.

Drought conditions that have gone from moderate to severe in recent weeks have led to Lake Minnetonka's water level dropping to the lowest of 2012.

The most recent measurements, recorded Oct. 17, indicate Lake Minnetonka's water level is 927.74 feet above sea level—down more than a foot since the beginning of August and more than 18 inches off the summer's peak.

Lake Minnetonka is the headwaters of the Minnehaha Creek Watershed, which includes eight major creeks, 129 lakes, thousands of wetlands and stretches to the Minnehaha Falls in Minneapolis. The watershed ultimately drains into the Mississippi River. This week the Minnehaha Falls have been reduced to a trickle, and creeks throughout the watershed have seen sharp drops in water levels.

Drought conditions have worsened so much that this week the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) issued a call for water conservation throughout the state, and offered the following examples of how drought conditions are straining the state’s water resources.

  • Water conflicts between users and uses are emerging in more places.
  • Nearly one-half of the state is in severe drought or worse; severe drought is considered a one in 10-year event; extreme drought is considered a one in 20-year event.
  • The extent and geographic distribution of the current drought is rivaling the extreme drought event of the late 1980s. 
  • Large areas of Minnesota have missed the equivalent of two summertime month’s worth of rain.
  • Soil moisture levels are at or below all-time low values for the end of September.
  • White Bear Lake’s water level has hit its lowest point on record.
  • It is a dire situation going into the 2013 growing season.

“Seventy-five percent of the state’s population depends on groundwater for its drinking water, so it is essential everyone start to conserve,” Tom Landwehr, DNR commissioner, said. "We are in the second year of a drought, and it is time for all of us to take water conservation more seriously.”

Public water suppliers have been contacted by the DNR and reminded to implement appropriate conservation measures contained in their water supply plans. These could include water audits, leak detection, and promoting water conservation to their customers. 

The U.S. Drought Monitor released its latest report Oct. 18 and placed large portions of northwest, west central, southwest and south central Minnesota in the "Extreme Drought" category. Nearly one-half of Minnesota is in "extreme drought" or "severe drought," according to the DNR. The remainder of Minnesota falls in the "moderate drought" category.

From the state climatology office:

Extraordinarily dry conditions during the months of August, September, and October caused rapid drought development in areas of Minnesota previously outside of the severe drought regions that developed earlier in the growing season. For those areas already undergoing significant drought, the late-summer/autumn extreme dryness exaggerated pre-existing conditions. Many locations reported less than one and one-half inch of rainfall over the two and one-half month period. For large portions of Minnesota, August through mid-October 2012 rainfall totals rank at or below the lowest on record.

Percipitation levels recorded in the Lake Minnetonka area between July and early October are among the lowest in recorded history, according to the state. While most Lake Minnetonka communities received trace amounts of perciptation Friday morning, dry conditions are expected to continue through the middle of next week.

Measurable rain could be seen in the area next Thursday, according to forecasts.

Information provided by the Minnehaha Creek Watershed District and Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

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