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Water has begun to collect in the east basin, near Well 26, on Lake Bella thanks to recent rains. The lake’s basins have shrunk due to a lack of sufficient moisture in recent years. Julie Buntjer/Daily Globe

‘Still awful dry’

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WORTHINGTON — Recent rains have helped raise the water levels in Worthington’s well field, but there’s still a long way to go before the city will be lifting its ban on non-essential watering.

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In fact, Worthington Public Utilities General Manager Scott Hain said Tuesday the wells may likely not reach the level needed this summer to warrant a lifting of the ban.

As it stands, residents of Worthington can still not water their lawns or gardens, or use water to wash vehicles. People are also urged to conserve water as much as possible in their homes and businesses.

Recent rains have helped to ward off discussions about expanding watering restrictions to local businesses such as commercial car washes, but there’s always the possibility of things changing if timely, beneficial rains cease in mid-summer as they have in recent years.

For the entire month of May, the city of Worthington received just 1.21 inches of rain — already surpassed by June’s rainfall total of 2.51 inches in just the past 10 days, said Hain.

That rain has had a small impact on Worthington’s well field at Lake Bella, south of town.

“What we’ve seen are our wells are going in the right direction, but it’s very slow,” Hain said. “I’m hopeful we’ll see a significant increase when we take the reading this Friday, but I don’t expect it to be anything dramatic — I don’t think it will be a foot (increase).”

The last big increase in the water level at Well 26 was an 8-inch rise back in the last week of April.

“Otherwise it’s been an inch, two, three or four,” Hain said. “It’s heading in the right direction, but awfully slow.”

As of last Friday’s measurements at Well 26, the water level was 11 feet 9 inches below the 16-year average for that well; and 9 feet one inch below where it was at the same time last year.

“The ground is still awful dry out there,” said Hain, acknowledging that one not need drive too far to see standing water in fields. From Marshall to Willmar and Long Prairie, Hain said “they’ve got entirely too much water up there.

“The significant rains have just missed us,” he added.

Worthington Public Utilities continues to purchase its maximum available water from Lincoln-Pipestone Rural Water at nearly a million gallons a day. While earlier this spring it looked as though that supply was in jeopardy due to some issues with LPRW’s Holland well field, state legislators were able to get some language approved late in the session that would prevent the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency from closing off the Holland well until after Worthington and LPRW have access to water from Lewis & Clark.

As for Lewis & Clark, Hain said a phone conference is planned early next week with the Minnesota Department of Revenue, the governor’s office and officials with Lewis & Clark to interpret the language in the bonding bill as it pertains to funding for the water project’s expansion.

There is little to question about the $22 million in bonding approved to expand Lewis & Clark pipeline to Luverne and east to Magnolia to reach the LPRW hook-up. It is estimated that bids will be let for that segment of the project either this month or next.

The big issue is the formula for the $45 million provision in the state’s tax bill.

“At this point in time, all we’ve been able to do is read the tax bill and the language in it,” Hain said. “I would anticipate we’ll look for any potential hurdles to accessing that $45 million … and try to determine if there are interpretation or language issues.”

The cities of Worthington and Luverne, along with the counties of Rock and Nobles, were given bonding authority to come up with the funding. At this point, Hain said there are more questions than answers.

Whatever money chipped in additionally by the local cities, counties and states is hoped to eventually be refunded by the federal government, which in 2000 approved 80 percent funding for the Lewis & Clark water project.

The federal government has not stepped forward to provide the funding it promised, but Hain said that doesn’t mean it’s off the hook.

“We fully intend to hold the federal government’s feet to the fire to get that funding,” he said. “If the federal government comes back with funding, that gets paid back to the state … or the locals.”

Hain said it would have been preferable not to have to ask the state for funding to complete Lewis & Clark, but after five years of waiting, “we just can’t wait any longer.”

As Lewis & Clark plans construction within Rock County to start this year, Hain is looking ahead to the work that has to be done in Nobles County, primarily engineering and land acquisition.

“If the stars all align, Worthington would receive Lewis & Clark water in 2017,” Hain said. “If we find out there are some unworkable things in the tax provision — some tweaks that need to be made in the language — I really don’t think that sets things back much.”

With elections coming up this fall, Hain remains hopeful that any language in the bill can be tweaked as opposed to going back to the legislature next year for changes.

“Who knows, the atmosphere may be quite different in St. Paul in the next legislative session,” he said.

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

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Julie Buntjer
Julie Buntjer joined the Daily Globe newsroom in December 2003, after working more than nine years for weekly newspapers. A native of Worthington and graduate of Worthington High School, then-Worthington Community College and South Dakota State University, she has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism. At the Daily Globe, Julie covers the agricultural beat, as well as Nobles County government, watersheds, community news and feature stories. In her spare time, she enjoys needlework (cross-stitch and hardanger embroidery), reading, travel, fishing and spending time with family. Find more of her stories of farm life, family and various other tidbits at www.farmbleat.areavoices.com.
(507) 376-7330
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