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DNR, city talk riparian rights

WORTHINGTON — Owning a home on Worthington’s Lake Okabena has long come with riparian rights to use lake water to run through sprinkler systems and keep lawns looking lush and green. However, with Lake Okabena’s water levels on a downward trend since 2011, city officials have begun discussions with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources about limiting those lake water rights.

“Given the context of where we’re at with our well supplies, there are a lot of corresponding questions from folks about use of water out of the lake,” said Worthington City Administrator Craig Clark. He, along with Worthington Public Utilities General Manager Scott Hain, met with DNR representatives earlier this week to discuss the city’s authority in regulating lake water use.

Clark said while the city isn’t prepared to make any determinations at this time regarding riparian rights, a decision may need to be made soon if drought conditions continue and lake levels continue to recede.

“The lake feeds Ocheda and Bella, which is where our wellfield is,” he said, adding that discussion focused on whether irrigation from the lake matters.

No one really has an answer to that question, including Hain.

“It’s certainly interconnected to our source,” said Hain. “To the extent it really has an impact … I don’t know if there’s a significant impact on the wellfield.

“The fact of the matter is, it certainly drives home the point that we are in a tough situation here with this continuing drought and the impact on our wells,” he added. “Our well levels in Bella are the lowest at this point in time since 2000. It’s just another thing that has to be looked at.”

At some point, the city may have to begin prioritizing its water supply. Clark said DNR officials pointed out domestic supply is the most critical to protect. That means if the water shortage worsens, local businesses including laundromats, car washes and golf courses will have to go without water. Processing facilities were identified farther down the line.

“What’s so difficult about this is if August is going to be your driest part of the season, we can’t wait until August to make any kind of modifications,” Clark said.

“We don’t like that there’s a watering ban and the implications it has, nor are we interested in cutting people off who use water from the lake, but if we’re to the point where we need to cut off commercial enterprises, we want to do everything possible before that,” he added.

Hain will attend Monday night’s Worthington City Council meeting to provide an update on the dire water issues. From there, Clark anticipates a prioritization formula will be developed. Clark also said discussions will continue with the DNR about the right to stop Lake Okabena landowners from taking water out of the lake.

“It’s not an easy step to do it and decide how to do it,” Clark said. “We all wish we weren’t in this boat, but unfortunately that’s what the precipitation has left us.”

Meanwhile, the city’s residents continue to be banned from nonessential watering. Again this year, the city will not have hanging flower baskets adorning 10th Street.

“Anything that anybody can do, whether it’s public water supply or surface water — anything that anybody can do to use less or as little as they need to — is certainly going to be to the benefit of everybody,” added Hain.

Daily Globe Reporter Julie Buntjer may be reached at 376-7330.

Julie Buntjer

Julie Buntjer joined the Globe newsroom in December 2003, after working more than nine years for weekly newspapers. A native of Worthington, she has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism. Find more of her stories of farm life, family and various other tidbits at

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