Deepening Drought Prompts Minnesota To Step Up Response

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Minnesota officials stepped up their drought response on Friday as the state grows drier, which threatens water supplies, agriculture and more wildfires.

Minnesota has now reached the threshold to trigger the “warning phase” under the statewide drought plan, the Department of Natural Resources said. And the department said it expects another threshold for public water systems that draw from the Mississippi River will be tripped in the coming days as stream flows drop.

“Under current conditions, it will take at least three to five inches of precipitation spread over a period of about two weeks to significantly alleviate the drought,” the DNR said in statement.

But the National Weather Service is forecasting below-normal rain and above-normal temperatures for Minnesota and the upper Midwest for the next two weeks, and at least a couple more days of hazy skies from northern wildfires.

The updated U.S. Drought Monitor map released Thursday shows that 98% of Minnesota is now in a drought, with 52% of the state in a severe or extreme drought, and conditions are expected to grow drier.

The “warning phase” triggers a series of steps, including the convening of a state drought task force made up of state, federal, regional and local experts, which last convened in 2012. Water conservation measures are being recommended, and in some cases mandated. The DNR advised residents and landowners to watch for notifications of restrictions from their local water utilities.

“DNR is taking the drought seriously. We have a robust plan in place, strong partnerships across the state, and continue to take actions to respond to the current situation,” DNR Commissioner Sarah Strommen said in a statement.

Minnesota was waiting to hear from the U.S. Department of Agriculture on pleas Thursday by Gov. Tim Walz and most of the state's congressional delegation to allow emergency grazing and cutting of hay on land enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program in counties experiencing severe to extreme drought conditions, which means over half the state.

The wildfire danger is rated high or very high for most of the northern two-thirds of Minnesota.

Superior National Forest officials this week ordered new closures of parts of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area north of Ely in case wildfires on the Canadian side of the border spread south. The lightning-caused Delta Lake Fire just outside the wilderness area, east of Ely, remained just 5% contained Friday. It has burned 65 acres of forest that's densely littered with dead trees blown down in previous storms, and more than 180 people were fighting it.