With 52% of Minnesota now experiencing severe drought and 4% in extreme drought, the state has entered the drought warning phase.

Due to this designation, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and others are taking additional steps.

The warning phase for drought occurs when a significant portion of the state passes thresholds for severe drought conditions at major watersheds. This threshold has been reached, according to a DNR news release.

The warning phase for public water suppliers using the Mississippi River is also triggered when stream flows in the Twin Cities Metropolitan Area have dropped below designated levels, which will likely happen in the coming days. The thresholds for drought watch and warning conditions are specified in the Minnesota Statewide Drought Plan.

Actions that are triggered in a drought warning include:

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  • Convening the State Drought Task Force, a panel of state, federal, regional and local experts with water-related responsibilities. The Task Force was last convened in 2012.
  • Notifying water appropriators with DNR permits that they should follow water conservation measures, such as reducing landscape irrigation, using more efficient irrigation equipment and checking for and repairing water leaks. Water appropriation permit holders can contact the local DNR area hydrologist for technical assistance or with any questions.
  • Notifying public water suppliers that it is time to implement their water-use reduction actions. Residents and landowners should watch for communications from their municipal or public water supplier for details on local water use reduction actions and restrictions.
  • Temporarily suspending or modifying some water appropriations in response to low stream flow conditions as necessary. As of July 15, the DNR has suspended water appropriations in 10 watersheds. Suspension of more surface water appropriations is expected, unless there is a dramatic change in the current precipitation pattern.

With these 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, according to the DNR. Soils are more efficiently replenished by multiple rainfall events than by any single heavy rainfall event. Surface water and groundwater respond somewhat differently over time.

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Drought is a naturally occurring feature of Minnesota’s climate. Some level of moderate and severe drought typically occurs in the state almost every year for at least a few weeks. Most severe drought in Minnesota is short-lived but drought in Minnesota does occasionally enter the extreme intensity classification, according to the release.

“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,” said Sarah Strommen, DNR Commissioner. “We understand that people are seeing the impacts of the drought in their daily lives and have concerns about water levels and availability. While occasional water level fluctuations are natural, normal and beneficial to ecosystems, they can negatively affect tourism and recreation, agriculture, businesses and other activities that are dependent on water. Times of drought remind us all about the importance of water conservation.”

Lakes, streams and rivers are dependent on the amount of precipitation an area receives, how much of that moisture is contributed by runoff, how much water is recharged or discharged through groundwater, and how much water evaporates.

Minnesotans are encouraged to learn how much water they are using and identify ways to reduce water use now and in the future. More than 75% of Minnesotans rely on groundwater for their water supply, according to the DNR. Reducing use today saves water for the future.

More information about drought is available on the DNR website. The website includes a link where anyone can sign up to receive drought-related notifications and information.