St. Croix watershed enters drought warning phase in Minnesota

Recent conditions caused state to enact rules to limit some commercial water usage.

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An agriculture crop irrigaton system. (Tony Webster/Wikimedia Commons)

With drought conditions continuing to expand in Minnesota, the St. Croix Watershed has moved from the Drought Watch to Drought Warning Response Phase. Public water suppliers in the watershed area must now implement water restrictions. The Minnesota portion of the St. Croix Watershed includes all or part of Washington, Anoka, Isanti, Chisago, Pine, Kanabec, Mille Lacs, Carlton and Aitkin counties and an extreme northeast portion of Ramsey County.

Per Minnesota’s Statewide Drought Management Plan, the DNR will be convening the State Drought Task Force and taking other actions specified in the plan, as drought conditions continue and intensify in some portions of Minnesota.

Additionally, suspensions of surface water appropriation permits in watersheds experiencing continued minimum stream flows will begin Sunday, July 23. Permits are under review in watersheds having recently reached critically low flows, which is described in Streamflow Information on the Minnesota DNR’s drought webpage. Water use types considered for suspension include irrigation, dust control, sand and gravel washing, and some types of construction-related water use. Permits for public drinking water are not suspended. The DNR contacts permit holders directly if and when permit suspensions will be required.

The weekly U.S. Drought Monitor released Thursday, July 20 shows that more than 80% of Minnesota is experiencing abnormally dry and/or moderate drought conditions. Areas of severe drought are expanding and, for the first time this year, small areas of the state, located in southeastern Minnesota and the Twin Cities Metro area, have moved into the extreme drought category.

  • 30% percent of Minnesota is experiencing abnormally dry conditions
  • 52% percent of the state is in moderate drought, unchanged from last week
  • 17% percent of Minnesota is in severe drought, up from 11% last week
  • 1.5% of the state is in extreme drought, up from 0% last week

Eleven watersheds in Minnesota remain in the Drought Watch Response Phase.

When a watershed reaches the Drought Warning Response Phase, public waters suppliers in that watershed are required to implement water conservation measures, with the goal of reducing water consumption to 50% above January levels. Importantly, municipalities need not be in a warning phase watershed to implement restrictions for water conservation while current dry conditions persist.

Drought conditions typically lead to increased irrigation for crops, lawns and athletic fields, which leads to additional strain on Minnesota’s water resources. Moderate drought (D1) is characterized by dry soil conditions, stressed crops and river/lake levels being lower than normal. Severe drought (D2) is characterized by very low river flow, hard ground and a higher potential for severe impacts on agriculture. Extreme drought (D3) may result in early harvest of corn and increased risk of wildfires. Some degree of drought occurs in Minnesota nearly every year.

“Even in a state with 10,000 lakes — actually, 11,842 of at least 10 acres in size — it is important for all residents to have a water conservation mindset,” Minnesota DNR Climatologist Kenny Blumenfeld said. “It is important for all water users to look at how much water they’re using and commit to using less, not just during drought but on an ongoing basis.”

Minnesotans are encouraged to learn how much water they are using compared to the average American home and identify ways to reduce water use now and in the future. Reducing use today saves water for the future.

A map of Minnesota watersheds, a link to the U.S. Drought Monitor and more information about drought in Minnesota is available on the DNR Drought Webpage. The website includes a link where anyone can sign up to receive drought-related notifications and information.


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St. Croix watershed enters drought warning phase in Minnesota