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White Bear Lake

A Disappearing Lake and Efforts to Restore It


David W. Kelley
Department of Geography
University of St. Thomas


This case study reviews the hydrologic cycle and uses a water balance equation to examine the hydrology of White Bear Lake, a 2,531-acre natural water body near St. Paul, Minnesota. Since 2004, lake water levels have fallen five feet below their ordinary high-water mark, resulting in broad areas of exposed lakebed. In 2012, a group of area residents filed a joint lawsuit against the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR), claiming mismanagement of the region's groundwater resources by allowing too many permits to be issued for groundwater extraction. The suit alleges that neighboring cities pumped increasing amounts of groundwater out of the underlying Prairie du Chien and Jordan aquifers, which are known to supply groundwater to the lake. The central activity of the case involves students using a supplied spreadsheet (Supplemental Materials) to model the roles of various water pathways on the surface water levels in White Bear Lake. The case was written for either an undergraduate hydrology or hydrogeology course, although the assignment could be modified for graduate students.


  • Learn about the hydrologic cycle.
  • Estimate the water balance equation for a lake.
  • Understand surface water and groundwater interactions.
  • Understand the role that climate and public policy play on managed watersheds and their waterbodies.
  • Appreciate the difficulty in implementing solutions to problems with multiple stakeholders.


water balance equation; hydrology; aquifers; groundwater extraction; hydrologic cycle; water budget

Topical Areas

Legal issues, Policy issues, Regulatory issues

Educational Level

Undergraduate lower division, Undergraduate upper division


PDF, PowerPoint, Excel

Type / Methods

Dilemma/Decision, Role-Play



Subject Headings

Environmental Science  |   Hydrology  |   Geology  |   Interdisciplinary Sciences  |   Climatology / Meteorology  |  

Date Posted


Teaching Notes

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Teaching notes are intended to help teachers select and adopt a case. They typically include a summary of the case, teaching objectives, information about the intended audience, details about how the case may be taught, and a list of references and resources.

Supplemental Materials

The spreadsheet below allows students to model changes to surface water levels in White Bear Lake. Some of the data needed to select appropriate parameters are located in the PowerPoint below, which also provides additional background for the case study.


  white_bear_lake_sup.pptx (~5 MB)
  white_bear_lake_sup.xlsx (~28 KB)

Answer Key

Answer keys for the cases in our collection are password-protected and access to them is limited to paid subscribed instructors. To become a paid subscriber, begin the process by registering.