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Legislative News and Views - Rep. Heather Keeler (DFL)

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Letter to DNR and PCA regarding Embridge water appropriation

Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Dear Commissioners,

We write to express our concerns with the amended Water Appropriation Permit 2018-3420 issued on June 4, 2021 that appropriates nearly five billion gallons of water to Enbridge for its Line 3 Replacement Project. This amended permit appropriates almost ten times more water than originally requested for completion of the project, and after reviewing the documents provided as part of the permit decision, we are requesting additional information to address these concerns.     

Drought management

According to the U.S Drought Monitor released on June 15, 100 percent of Minnesota is now abnormally dry, with 55.7 percent of the state in a moderate drought and 5.1 percent of the state in a severe drought. Unfortunately, the National Integrated Drought Information System forecasts that conditions will worsen throughout the summer as extreme heat and the lack of precipitation persists. With this in mind, we are concerned about how Enbridge intends to comply with the state’s drought requirements.

Section 65 of the Findings of Fact, Conclusion and Order issued on June 4 states: Under Minn. Stat. § 103G.293, water appropriation permits “must provide conditions on water appropriation consistent with the drought response plan” established by the DNR. The Permit contains a condition requiring compliance with the statewide drought plan.

Further, the DNR’s amended Water Appropriation Permit 2018-3420 issued on June 4 states:

The Department may require the suspension of appropriation during periods of low water in order to maintain minimum water levels within the basin/watercourse/watershed.

Please provide us with more information about how the agency intends to monitor and enforce compliance with the statewide drought plan. We are also requesting more information about how the DNR determines “minimum water levels” and what actions the agency will be taking to ensure that those levels are maintained throughout the duration of the permit. Finally, please let us know the criteria used by the agency to determine when a suspension of appropriation is warranted.

Water use impacts

The Order makes several references to the potential environmental impacts of this additional appropriation. 

Section 22 of the Order states: Open trenches can fill with water from surficial groundwater and/or precipitation. Dewatering of the trench is not anticipated to change the water and land resources as the water removed from the trench will be allowed to infiltrate into the surrounding groundwater. Unavoidable detrimental effects of the dewatering are minimal as the water will be allowed to infiltrate back into the groundwater.

Section 33 of the Order states: Environmental impacts are not expected from temporary lowering of the water table as the water appropriation is from trench dewatering at eight feet deep and/or shallow well points installed within surficial groundwater aquifers and will only remove water that accumulates in the trench (i.e. precipitation and surficial groundwater).

Section 35 of the Order states: After review, the DNR concludes that the evidence in the initial application materials in the record shows that the anticipated volume changes identified in the Amendment to the resource will be temporary in nature because dewatering typically occurs in a period of three days or less.

Please outline the actions you will take to monitor whether the water is indeed infiltrating back into the groundwater. We would also like information about how drought conditions could impact the ability for water to infiltrate into the surrounding groundwater and if this impacts the assertion that volume changes will be temporary.

Discharge standards and water transport

Section 35 of the Order states: The water will be pumped out of the trench and/or shallow surficial groundwater aquifer well points and into a filtering device such as a geotextile filter bag discharging into a well-vegetated upland area or when uplands are not accessible either because of site conditions and/or distance, to a straw or hay bale dewatering structure which will allow infiltration back into the ground near the site or reused if quantities are available.

Section 38 of the Order states: Discharge quality must meet applicable effluent limits and surface water quality standards, and violations of such requirements are subject to the regulatory jurisdiction of the MPCA…No water will be transported off site unless it is reused for buoyancy control, dust suppression activities, or decontamination of equipment for invasive and noxious species.

While the Order documents the necessary procedures for Enbridge to meet the required standards and limits, it fails to describe how your agencies will monitor the company’s work and ensure compliance. Additionally, we are requesting information related to the actions you will take to ensure that Enbridge is complying with the order not to transport water off site except for the purposes stated above.

Private landowners and municipal water supplies

Section 25 of the Order states: As of the October 2020 submittal of the initial application, 100% of private landowners had completed the easement negotiations with Enbridge. Enbridge submitted an affidavit certifying that it has ownership or control of, or a license to use, the land overlaying the groundwater source or abutting the surface water sources from which water will be appropriated, as required by Minn. R. 6115.0660.

Section 46 of the Order states: There is expected to be no impact to wells along the pipeline corridor as the proposed depth of the trench should not impact any confined aquifers, where domestic and municipal water supplies are usually located. Most wells are set deeper than the proposed dewatering trench and the pipeline corridor is generally not located close to communities or private home

Based on this timeline, private landowners negotiated easements with Enbridge prior to the issuance of this amended permit. Please provide the actions you will take to protect the interests of these private landowners and ensure that no harm comes to their land or to the quality and quantity of their drinking water as a result of this additional appropriation. The information we are requesting to address our concerns related to water use impacts will also help us better understand the agency’s assertion that this additional appropriation will not impact the local communities who rely on groundwater from confined aquifers.

Permit compliance

The Order contains several references to the ways Enbridge is required to document and report its activities.

Section 33 of the Order states: Enbridge is required to record and report all water removed from the trench to the appropriate agencies.

Section 18 subpart (a) of the Order states: Enbridge will maintain logs of the daily water volume use totals for each water source and will provide logs to the DNR. The volumes will be recorded using a timing device in the trenches and flow meters at pump stations as per a condition of the Permit.

Section 57 of the Order states: Enbridge will report water use based on the calendar year by February 15 of the following year on forms provided by the commissioner (through MPARS) as well as pay the water appropriation use fees.

Please provide us with the actions that will be taken by the DNR to ensure the accuracy of the logs submitted by Enbridge, how any discrepancies will be resolved, and how any violations will be enforced, including types and amounts of fines and penalties. Further, we have strong concerns that annual reporting is insufficient to identify and mitigate any environmental harm, particularly during a drought, and we ask that you provide us with details about how your agency will ensure continued oversight of the company’s work.

Thank you for your consideration of our concerns and for providing the additional information needed to address the issues raised in this letter. Minnesotans depend on an abundant supply of clean, safe water and we know that you share our goal of protecting this precious resource for them and for future generations.