Environment

Meetings planned on nitrate contamination in southeast Minnesota water

A stream outside02
Southeast Minnesota is known for its karst terrain where surface and groundwater travels more quickly through the Swiss-cheese-like topography.
Clay Masters | MPR News

State officials will hold public meetings in southeastern Minnesota this month about the region’s nitrate problem.

The Minnesota Department of Health says private well owners can learn more about what's being done to address health concerns over nitrate levels in drinking water.

Nitrate — formed when nitrogen mixes with oxygen in water — is colorless, odorless and tasteless and can easily go undetected if water isn’t tested. Nitrate contamination has been a known problem throughout much of Minnesota for decades, but increased awareness has sparked an urgent interest in addressing the problem. 

The region’s karst geology makes wells especially susceptible to nitrate contamination from fertilizer, manure and wastewater. Too much nitrate in drinking water can cause health problems, including a sometimes-fatal condition known as blue baby syndrome.

The first meeting is scheduled for 5-8 p.m. June 12 at the Stewartville Community Center. Others are planned for June 26 in Rushford and June 27 in Mazeppa. A virtual meeting will be held on June 20.

In November, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency declared state agencies need to take additional steps to protect drinking water in southeast Minnesota from nitrate.

State lawmakers put $16 million toward testing and cleaning up polluted wells, and helping farmers change their practices to reduce runoff.

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