Josephine Marcotty’s “Fertilizer rules pit clean water vs. profits” is a welcome kick off of a public discussion about the state of Minnesota’s drinking water.
Most of the discussion about nitrogen pollution has been confined to the impact on lakes, rivers and streams so the impact, while important, has not been seen as pressing. The impact of nitrogen pollution on drinking water is decidedly different and much more pressing. That is especially true since the Department of Agriculture’s own data shows that where there is nitrogen in groundwater, there are pesticides and as nitrogen increases pesticides increase.
The Department of Agriculture offers voluntary nitrogen testing in townships that are considered vulnerable to pollution and are generally planted in row crops. Of the tests done so far, 1,912 have nitrogen above the health risk standard. Since there is a good estimate of the total number of wells in each township one can estimate that if all the private wells in these townships were tested, over 5,532 would be contaminated. The Department does not offer any help to those whose wells are contaminated even when the well owner didn’t cause the pollution.
Mankato is in a similar situation. It gets its drinking water from wells. Nitrate levels in the Blue Earth and Minnesota Rivers have increased to the point that some of Mankato’s wells are now contaminated. Mankato mixes water from these wells with water from the Mt. Simon, the region’s most critical aquifer that provides water for Minnesotans well beyond Mankato. There is concern that the Mt. Simon is not sufficiently recharging so Mankato has limited its use of this source. At this point Mankato has to consider an expensive nitrate-filtering plant so they have brought their request for help to the Governor and Legislature. Marcotty points out that Mankato is not the only city that has faced this problem.
The nitrogen rule discussed in Marcotty’s article received 800 comments. The Department of Agriculture says it will not post them because it does not have the capability. The Department of Commerce received 2,867 comments on the Enbridge Line 3 DEIS. The comment period closed July 10 and they were posted on July 20.