Experts weigh in on Southeast Minnesota water quality

Experts weigh in on EPA’s recent discoveries on Southeast Minnesota water quality.

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(ABC 6 News) – Last week, the EPA announced a severe quality issue in drinking water in eight counties throughout Southeast Minnesota.

While many in the region are still learning about this news, experts on nitrate concentration in water are already looking at solutions. Too many nitrates is not good for humans and for eight counties across southeast Minnesota stretching from Albert Lea to the Mississippi River have be found with an overwhelming amount.

On November 3, the EPA sent a letter to three Minnesota state agencies saying the nitrate concentration in the ground water is too high which can lead to risks of cancer for those who drink it. However, not all water holes in the region are impact.

—RELATED: EPA tells MN agencies to act on water contamination

“The general acquisition that no drinking water in southeast Minnesota is safe is certainly a fallacy,” said Tom Anderson, a farm business management adjunct professor at Riverland Community College.

Anderson works with livestock farmers in seven of the eight counties and says while things are better, there’s still a long way to go.

“I think we need to do more testing and have a better collaboration and cooperation between legislature and farmer and petitioners who have filed this petition,” he added.

Ian Roback started his own company, Clear Water Nitrate, in college at St. Olaf in 2020. He moved to Austin after graduation due to the high levels of nitrate concentration in groundwater.

“The EPA ruling really demonstrates how crucial it is to take action at these steps and identify it and prevent it at the source,” Roback said.

Austin and surrounding towns, such as Albert Lea, have seen physical signs of nitrate like algae blooms in bodies of water. But Roback describes the Mower County and the state’s progress as more like two steps forward, and two steps back.

“The nitrate problem, while it’s not increasing dramatically, it hasn’t been decreasing. We’ve had really good work from the SWCD in Mower County that’s testing well water and demonstrating solutions for the community. But like I said before we need to focus on the problem before it gets off the farm fields,” Roback said.

Anderson says the farmers he works with are all for cleaner, safer drinking water. But because the nitrates being discovered now have been in the groundwater for half a century. It’s complicated the matter for them.

“They work diligently and want clean water like everybody else. Things are getting better but it takes a long time, once it’s already in the soil to change,” Anderson said.

Until the state agencies come up with a plan of their own, both Anderson and Roback say the best thing people can do is get their water tested.

“I think that’s important that people do know that the water is safe and if it’s not safe, you should know that it’s not safe,” said Anderson.

“If we see an increase or any sort of climb in that nitrate we need to be able to identify where it’s coming from and prevent it from becoming contaminated in the future,” Roback added.

The EPA has given state agencies 30 days to come up with a response to their findings.

If you’d like to have your water tested, you can contact your local city municipalities or contact Clear Water Nitrate.