Nitrate study for southeastern Minnesota in budget limbo

An in-depth environmental study on sources of nitrate contamination in groundwater in southeastern Minnesota will cost an estimated $2 million, but the governor's supplemental budget proposal only commits about $650,000 to the project.

Meanwhile, members of the Environmental Quality Board are trying to figure out whether to order the study, known as a general environmental impact statement. The region's karst topography is susceptible to groundwater contamination from farms and livestock operations. Nitrates are the primary concern, because consuming water with elevated nitrate levels can be fatal for infants.

People have until Friday to comment on whether the study is needed and what it should cover.

"It appears that there are already a number of farmers who are trying to address solutions, and there are many more who would like to try to address solutions and best practices. They're not compensated to do that, and that makes things difficult," said Kristen Eide-Tollefson a citizen member of the Environmental Quality Board who lives in the region.

Eide-Tollefson says she's hopeful people can come together on solutions. The decision over whether to do the study depends in part on if the Legislature decides to fund it.

Eide-Tollefson says nitrate contamination is an ongoing and complex issue in the region.

"One of the questions here, is what does it cost to replace someone's well? And who pays for it? Because, of course, we can't do anything without clean, safe water," she said.

She said that question comes up for municipal drinking water systems, too.

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