The Mount Simon-Hinckley Aquifer

The Mount Simon-Hinckley aquifer is one of the deepest and oldest aquifers in the state. It runs from Hinckley, MN to a large swath of south central Minnesota. The aquifer reaches depths of over 1,000 feet in some areas, containing water that is 30,000 years old. Industrial pumping of the aquifer has been banned in the seven county metro area for more than 30 years, and household use is only allowed when there is no other reasonable water alternative. Even with current restrictions, demand on the aquifer is likely to increase in the future due to projected climate conditions.

Many people think of aquifers as large underground lakes, but really an aquifer is more like sand soaked water where water trickles down through the porous space. This trickle of water may be extremely slow and it may take years for water to reach the aquifer. This leads to issues when aquifers are over-pumped and this slower recharge rate is not taken into account. There are already known areas in the Mount Simon Aquifer that are dry, caused by excessive pumping.

The Mount Simon Hinckley aquifer is an especially complicated system because of the diversity of the landscape it covers. These different landscapes have unique water flow as well as varying rock types which influence the water's ability to percolate down. Water within the same aquifer may differ in age by a thousand years depending on when the water reached the aquifer. Age of the water can be an indicator of water supply.

Learn more about how groundwater systems work by watching ACD's "Our Groundwater Connection" informational video.

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Save Money and Water in 2022

Spring is here. If you have an irrigation system for your yard, you're likely considering getting it up and running within the next month or two. System startup is the time when you're setting the watering duration and frequency for each zone in your yard. These settings often remain unchanged throughout the season, which typically results in overwatering. Overwatering wastes drinkable water, and assuming you don't have a private well, it also wastes money. 

This year, in addition to following city restrictions (e.g. odd/even watering schedules), try actively managing your irrigation controller. Active management consists of adjusting run times based on local conditions. For example, during periods with sufficient rainfall, watering duration and frequency can be reduced. During these times, you can simply turn your irrigation system off. In contrast, during periods of extreme heat and drought, supplemental watering may be necessary. Watch your yard for signs of drought before turning on your irrigation system, and rely on rainfall as much as possible. When you need to use your irrigation system, water your lawn one time or less per week with a good soaking to encourage deeper root growth, and schedule watering times in the morning to reduce evaporation associated with midday heat and wind.

An alternative to active management is a smart irrigation controller. Smart irrigation controllers use an internet connection to actively monitor local precipitation patterns and automatically adjust watering frequency and duration accordingly. Regardless of whether you choose active management or a smart irrigation controller, both are effective options for reducing water use and saving money.

Visit the University of Minnesota Extension's Lawn Care website for additional lawn management resources. 

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April Showers Bring Vernal Pools

Vernal pools are shallow wooded wetlands that fill with water in the spring and fall, then dry out in the summer. They may simply look like a large muddy puddle, but in reality these small depressions are filled with life and benefit local water quality.

  • Water Resource Benefits

By capturing water from snowmelt and heavy rains, vernal pools reduce the amount of runoff – and the contaminants it carries – reaching nearby surface waters and developed lands. This lowers flooding risks, improves water quality, and contributes to groundwater recharge as the trapped water slowly infiltrates through the soil.

  • Aquatic Invertebrates and Amphibians

Vernal pools rarely contain fish because their water levels fluctuate dramatically. This provides a safe haven for many invertebrate and amphibian species that would otherwise be heavily predated upon. Many depend on vernal pools during their egg and larval stages, leaving for nearby aquatic and terrestrial habitats once fully developed. Others spend their entire life within or near the wetland's depression.

  • Birds, Reptiles, and Mammals

Due to their abundance of amphibians and invertebrates, vernal pools supplement the food and water needs of wildlife such as waterfowl, songbirds, turtles, snakes, bats, and even bears. These benefits stem beyond the vernal pool itself when many of the invertebrates transition from aquatic larvae to terrestrial adults, serving as forage for insectivore species.

Explore and Protect

Vernal pools are highly sensitive to changes in vegetation cover, climate, and local topography. Because they are nearly invisible for much of the summer, they can be easily missed and destroyed if the land is modified; even an unintentional pass through these depressions during an ATV ride can strongly impact their function. You can help protect vernal pools on your property by marking their boundaries when visible in the spring and avoiding disturbance throughout the year. This is also a great time to explore the abundance of wildlife in and around these wetlands – an especially popular adventure for children.

Additional Resources

"Spring-to-Life Ponds": an Illustrated Learning Guide, produced by the MNDNR

MN Frog ID and Calls and Common Vernal Pool Invertebrates, produced by the MPCA and University of Wisconsin

Locating and Protecting Vernal Pools, produced by the MN Land Trust 

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Please Water Responsibly

This summer has been very dry. As a result, many cities around the metro have implemented watering bans or restrictions. Watering daily during drought conditions puts further strain on water supplies than the drought is already causing. Watering allowance during restrictions (e.g. odd or even days only) should be thought of as the MAXIMUM you should water, not the minimum. If your grass is green and lush, consider shutting your sprinklers down for a day or two. Selectively water areas of your yard that may be sunnier or drier where the grass browns more readily, but consider skipping areas that stay green longer. In times like these, it becomes even more important that we share our limited water resources responsibly.

Use these additional tips to conserve water this summer:

  1. Use sprinklers efficiently. Align sprinklers to avoid irrigating roads, sidewalks, and driveways. Install a rain sensor on automated irrigation systems.
  2. Water deeply and less frequently rather than daily. The only exception to this is when you start seeds which require moisture for germination. When plants are watered less frequently they grow deeper roots and become healthier plants.
  3. Water in the morning. Watering in the morning prevents water loss from evaporation and also prevents possible fungal problems if plants remain wet in the cooler night.
  4. Mulch your garden beds with wood chips, leaves and unsprayed straw. Mulching around the plants in your garden will help conserve soil moisture.
  5. Add organic matter. Adding a layer of compost to your beds every season will increase the water holding capacity of your soil.
  6. Install a rain barrel. Harvest water from rooftops during rainstorms and use that water to water gardens.
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