Study: Farm runoff costly for small towns to clean up

Some Minnesota towns face high costs to clean up their drinking water because of pollution runoff from farms, according to a report today from an environmental group.

The Environmental Working Group studied the effects of nitrogen and phosphorus on drinking water supplies in four Midwestern states. Both elements are used as crop fertilizers.

High nitrate levels can cause a serious blood disorder in babies, and can affect thyroid function in adults.

Troubled Waters: Download the full report

Study author Craig Cox said the problem could be addressed in the new farm bill by directing farm payment programs to watershed-based organizations that can more effectively clean up pollution.

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"To get groups of farmers working together so the entire watershed gets the treatment that's required," Cox said.

He said that requirement has historically been included, but some agriculture interests are trying to get it dropped.

"It just seems fair that if taxpayers are going to provide generous support, that taxpayers could expect some basic measure of environmental protection in return," he said.

The Lincoln-Pipestone water system in southwestern Minnesota added a $2 million nitrate removal system, and worked with farmers to reduce their use of fertilizers.