MPR coverage: Nitrate in drinking water a costly problem for small, rural cities

by Trevor Russell

Building on a recent report from the Environmental Working Group, recent MPR news coverage examines the costs of nitrate contamination in drinking water in small, rural communities — those least able to afford treatment costs.

Minnesotans are all too familiar with the costs and health risks of elevated nitrate in community wells. 

Nitrate contamination in drinking water in excess of the state's official Health Risk Limit (HRL) poses well-documented health risks, especially to children. Additional research indicates links to birth defects, thyroid problems, cancers, and other health concerns.

Today, at least 537 public water supply wells across the state have elevated nitrate levels. About 10% of private wells located in what are considered to be vulnerable areas exceed the Health Risk Limit, including some townships where 30% to 40% or more of private wells are unsafe to drink from! Many of these wells are susceptible to nitrate contamination from cropland fertilizers, the main source of nitrate contamination in our drinking water.

That’s why FMR and residents from across the state have advocated for strengthening Minnesota’s proposed Groundwater Protection Rule.

The rule, does not include everything FMR advocated for but it is a good step forward. It promotes voluntary adoption of management practices that could improve the quality and safety of drinking water in community wellhead areas where land use activities have the potential to affect the quality of water that flows into wells. The rule also calls for common-sense regulations developed in consultation with and including area farmers.

This strategy balances environmental protection, public health and farm profitability, and is a reasonable, If incrementa,l approach to addressing this public health risk.

In the meantime, water pollution headlines from communities like CoatesBeckerCold SpringHastingsMankatoAdrianSt. PeterPark Rapids and now Randall are becoming all too common. 

Ready to make a difference in state water policy?

Join the FMR River Guardians. We'll email you so you can act quickly online when the time is right, plus you'll be invited to occasional special events like River Guardian happy hours. 

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