Environmental groups ask EPA to act on water quality in Southeastern Minnesota

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(ABC 6 News) – 11 environmental advocacy groups are raising the alarm over nitrate levels in the groundwater in Southeast Minnesota.

Advocacy groups like the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy are calling on the EPA to intervene under the Safe Water Drinking Act.

This law allows the EPA to act when there is an imminent danger to public health caused by contamination to underground drinking water, and specifically mentions nitrate pollution as one situation that would call on the EPA to step in.

The Department of Agriculture is working to reduce nitrate pollution in public water systems, but not as much is being done for private well owners.

“The current resources and regulatory support available to people with nitrate contaminated water supplies, especially private well owners, is not adequate to the crisis,” said Carly Griffith from the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy.

The Department of Agriculture has offered free nitrate testing to 90,000 private well owners across the state, but only around 32,000 have taken advantage of this.

Jeff Broberg from the Minnesota Well Owners Organization says most well owners don’t test their wells.

This could be because they are wary of the cost, they don’t understand water treatment practices or they worry the government will condemn their well, which Broberg says has never happened in Minnesota.

The risk of nitrate pollution is much higher with wells built before the well code was established. Around 60% of well owners in the Karst region have these older wells.

“I have a 400 foot deep well that has 17 parts per million nitrates. I’ve not been able to drink my water for over 20 years,” said Broberg.

The Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy is asking the EPA to investigate where the contamination is coming from and provide immediate relief to those affected.

However, some farmers are worried about the impact this will have on them.

Warren Formo from the Minnesota Agricultural Water Resources Center describes many farmers who are already reducing their use of nitrates on their crops.

“Farmers really are attempting to fine tune this. One of the challenges that farmers have, is that while we can calculate an exact perfect nitrogen rate for every field every year, we can’t do it until the season’s over,” said Formo.

The water advocacy groups say they are not trying to attack the work farmers do.

“It is critical to work together with farmers as stewards of the landscape with the shared common goal to protect water at everyone’s kitchen sink,” said Griffith.

The EPA has not yet taken action on this issue, but they are in communication with the advocacy groups.

The Subcommittee on Minnesota Water Quality will continue discussion on this issue at their next meeting on November 7.