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Below is posted the October 2, 2000 DNR letter to the Golden Valley Environmental Commission which is a citizen volunteer group. As far as I know, this letter gave a good synopsis of the DNR side of the issue. -- ds

Minnesota Department of Natural Resources
500 Lafayette Road
St. Paul. Minnesota 55155-40__

October 2, 2000

Golden Valley Environmental Commission
7800 Golden Valley Road
Golden Valley, MN 55427

Re: Once-through cooling

Dear Ms. Hill:

I have been informed that the commission heard a presentation by General Mills about once-through cooling and their nature preserve proposal. I would like to provide some background and comments for your consideration.

The once-through cooling legislation was passed in 1989 to eliminate a wasteful use of ground water. In 1989, 11 billion gallons of water a year was being used for once-through systems. As of 1999 that use has been reduced to 5 billion gallons of water per year and by 2010 the use will be essentially eliminated.

This legislation was passed to protect MN’s ground water resources for future higher priority domestic and economic purposes. The attached hydrograph (A) shows how water levels in the Jordan aquifer in Orono (closest long term observation well with the longest period of record) have declined since 1945 as demands for water have increased. The Metropolitan Council forecasts that by 2020 the population in the Twin Cities Metropolitan area will increase 15% to over 3 million people. The Prairie du Chien-Jordan aquifer is the primary ground water source used by public water suppliers and must be carefully managed. Each high capacity well will impact the resource to varying degrees and arguments  can be made that one singular project has little impact, but to purport that once-through cooling has no environmental impacts is erroneous. Public policy is typically based on cumulative impacts and the standards set are to assure the publics’ rights are protected. Our position in 1989 and our position today is that once-through cooling use of ground water should be eliminated in order to responsibly protect our ground water supply for higher priority uses. We could support alternatives for continued use of once-through cooling water if all the water is reused for a higher priority purpose, such as a public water supply.

Legislation was passed in 1992 to allow a once-through cooling system an exemption if the water was discharged to a nature preserve. The proponents testified in front of the legislative committees that the “nature preserve” would benefit from the discharge of water to it and consequently the once-through cooling use should continue because overall the “net benefit” to the resources was positive. The specific example used in 1992 was Willow Lake, a 70 acre shallow lake, and the once-through cooling discharge would provide for a consistent water level and help to avoid fish winter kill. General Mills’ proposal has taken the opposite approach to argue that their once-through cooling should continue and General Mills has not shown how the 254 to 487.5 million gallons/year (MGY) would benefit this nature preserve. For comparison, 254 MGY is equivalent to 779 acre feet of water, or 39 feet of water over an area of 20 acres.

General Mills sued the Department over the use of the nature preserve exemption in existing law. The principal issue before the court was whether General Mills had exhausted their administrative remedies. The Department’s position was that a permit and administrative hearing process was appropriate and should be exhausted first. The court ruled in General Mills favor and the Department decided not to appeal. There was never a hearing on the merits of their proposal although General Mills did submit their arguments to the court. In other words, our attorneys were arguing primarily administrative issues and not natural resource issues.

As you may know we also went through a mediation process and were unable to reach a settlement. The sticking point was General Mills desire to cool two new buildings with an expansion of their once-through system. The structure and evolution of the law was to eliminate once-through cooling systems unless the existing system’s water would be a benefit to a nature preserve. It clearly was not the legislature’s intent to allow new buildings to utilize once-through cooling.

I’ve attached some additional background material. If you would like to discuss this issue further, contact either Jim Japs at 651-297-2835 or me at 651-296-4810.

DNR Waters

Kent Lokkesmoe

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