ST. PAUL (AP) - Starting next month, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources can fine farmers who pump water illegally as much as $20,000 without having to go to court.

The authority was granted by the Legislature last year with a goal of protecting groundwater supplies amid an irrigation boom. It was in response to the agency's concern that irrigation demand in some parts of the state is more than what aquifers can supply.

The change allows the agency to independently issue civil penalties, and state officials believe higher penalties will motivate farmers to stop pumping water for irrigation illegally.

The Department of Natural Resources also hopes the new law will help it reach its goal of ensuring every farmer has registered their wells.