MINNEAPOLIS (AP) – Minnesota officials on Friday stepped up their drought response as the state becomes drier, threatening water supplies, agriculture and more forest fires.
Minnesota has now reached the threshold to trigger the “warning phase” as part of the nationwide drought plan, said the Department of Natural Resources. And the department said it anticipates another threshold for public water systems flowing out of the Mississippi to be exceeded in the coming days if electricity flows decline.
“Under the current conditions, at least three to five inches of rainfall will be spread over a period of about two weeks to significantly alleviate the drought,” said a statement by the DNR.
But the National Weather Service predicts below average rain and above average temperatures for Minnesota and the upper Midwest for the next two weeks and at least a few more days of foggy skies from the northern forest fires.
The updated map of the US Drought Monitor released Thursday shows 98% of Minnesota has now been hit by drought and 52% of the state has been hit by severe or extreme drought, and conditions are expected to become drier.
The “warning phase” triggers a number of steps, including the convening of a state drought working group made up of state, federal, state and local experts, which last met in 2012. Water protection measures are recommended and in some cases commissioned in. The DNR advised local residents and landowners to watch out for notices of restrictions on their local water utility.
“DNR takes the drought seriously. We have a solid plan, strong partnerships across the state, and we continue to take action to respond to the current situation, ”DNR Commissioner Sarah Strommen said in a statement.
Minnesota waited Thursday for a plea from Governor Tim Walz and most of the state’s congressional delegation to allow emergency grazing and haymaking to hear from the U.S. Department of Agriculture on land included in the Conservation Reserve Program in counties suffering from severe to extreme drought conditions, which is more than half the state.
Forest fire risk is rated high or very high for most of the northern two-thirds of Minnesota.
Superior National Forest officials this week ordered new closings of portions of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area north of Ely in case wildfires spread south on the Canadian side of the border. The Delta Lake Fire caused by lightning just outside the wilderness east of Ely was only 5% lagging behind on Friday. It burned 65 acres of forest thickly littered with dead trees that were blown over in previous storms, and more than 180 people fought it.