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Environmental Health Division
Response to EPA Nitrate Letter for Southeast Minnesota
On November 3, 2023, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) requested the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH), Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, and Minnesota Department of Agriculture develop a coordinated and comprehensive work plan to reduce nitrate contamination of drinking water in eight southeastern Minnesota counties. The eight counties included are Dodge, Fillmore, Goodhue, Houston, Mower, Olmsted, Wabasha, and Winona.
- Minnesota’s Workplan: Addressing Nitrate in Southeast Minnesota (PDF)
- January 12, 2024 Response to EPA’s request (PDF)
- December 1, 2023 Response to EPA's request (PDF)
- Talking Points: EPA Response Workplan (PDF)
- Information about EPA's request: EPA Southeast Minnesota Groundwater
Status of work on the EPA’s request
As of January 12, 2024, the state is:
Working with local partners to develop and implement education and outreach strategies in these eight counties and identifying potential sources of funding and methods for well testing, the provision of alternate water, and mitigation strategies.
The agencies have developed a workplan cited in the EPA letter, which includes the following three phases:
1. Immediate Response (January 2024 – June 2024)
- Conduct education and outreach encouraging well testing
- Provide limited alternate water for vulnerable populations
2. Public Health Intervention (July 2024 – Ongoing)
- Identify impacted residences
- Conduct education and outreach
- Test private well drinking water
- Provide mitigation
- Provide public record of work
3. Long-Term Nitrate Strategies (Snapshot of key initiatives)
- Taskforce to address nitrate
- Nitrogen Fertilizer Management Plan and Groundwater Protection Rule
- Feedlot permits and rules
- Revising Minnesota Nutrient Reduction Strategy
- Fish kill prevention
- Wastewater nitrogen reduction and karst protection strategies
We will provide more updates as these activities develop.
Now is a good time to check your drinking water quality
Nitrate in groundwater is an issue that has been developing in southeastern Minnesota for several decades. There are regulations in place to help protect groundwater, but it will likely take years of work to fully mitigate the issue. Checking your water quality now is a good way to confirm if your water is safe to drink.
If you’d like more information about nitrate in the environment or nitrate and health, please visit the webpage below.
If you are on a public water system, your system ensures that drinking water meets the EPA standard
Your public water system regularly tests for nitrate and ensures levels meet the EPA standard. Your public water system will let you know if they detect nitrate in drinking water at a level above the EPA standard. You can find the level of nitrate detected in the system serving where you live by reading the system’s Water Quality Report, also known as a Consumer Confidence Report (CCR).
Search for your Consumer Confidence Report (CCR) online at the link below or contact your public water system to get a paper copy. If you want to find the level of nitrate for a place besides your home, contact the water system serving that location.
If you have a private well, test for nitrate every year
If you get your drinking water from a private well, MDH recommends that you test the water you use for drinking and cooking for nitrate every year at an accredited water testing laboratory. We also recommend testing for coliform bacteria every year and testing for arsenic, lead, and manganese at least once. You cannot taste, see, or smell these contaminants in your water; testing is the only way to know the level in your water.
Test for nitrate every year. You should also have your water tested for nitrate if you are planning on becoming pregnant or if infants will be using the water.
You are responsible for keeping your well water safe and testing it as needed. MDH recommends you use an accredited laboratory to test your water. Contact an accredited laboratory to get sample containers and instructions, or ask your county environmental or public health services if they provide well testing services.
The TAP-IN program in southeastern Minnesota is stocking water testing kits at regional offices. Learn more at the link below.
Accredited labs in southeastern Minnesota that test for nitrate are (alphabetical order):
- Minnesota Valley Testing Laboratories, Inc.
Address: 1126 North Front Street, New Ulm, MN 56073
- RMB Environmental Laboratories, Inc
Address: 501 Highway 13 East, Burnsville, MN 55337
- Southeastern Minnesota Water Analysis Laboratory
Address: 2100 Campus Drive SE, Suite 100, Rochester, MN 55904
Order a water test kit at: Olmsted County Minnesota Water Analysis Lab
- UC Laboratory
Address: 129 North Main Street, Janesville, MN 56048
If nitrate is detected in your private well at concentrations above 10 mg/L, follow these steps
- Get your drinking water from a safe alternative source, such as bottled water.
- Make sure babies under six months old do not drink the well water.
- Do not try to boil nitrate out of the water. Boiling will make nitrate more concentrated.
- Have a licensed well contractor inspect your well.
- Find and get rid of any potential sources of nitrate contamination. Visit the webpages below to help you identify sources to check or to contact a licensed well contractor.
Home water treatment is also an option. Even with home water treatment, MDH recommends that no babies under six months old drink the water, a safety precaution in the event the water treatment fails. Before treating for nitrate, MDH encourages you to first try to get rid of potential sources of nitrate on your property and get your well inspected and repaired.
Commonly asked questions
Can I get a free test for my well water?
Currently, MDH is not providing free water testing kits. MDH encourages you to work with an accredited lab to get your water tested. You can also participate in a well screening clinic hosted by a local agency or group. While screening results are not 100% accurate, they can be a first step knowing if nitrate is in your well water. If nitrate is detected with a screening test, we encourage you to follow up with an accredited lab.
Can I get a treatment system installed for free or a new well paid for?
Currently, MDH is not providing funds for nitrate treatment, well repair, or new well construction. However, there may be programs available for cost share of treatment systems or well repairs at the local government level. You can check if you may be eligible for any grants or loans for home water treatment, well construction, or repair. Visit the link below for more information.
As programs become available MDH will do outreach to our local partners and the public.
As a private well owner, do I have to test and treat my water?
There are no statewide regulations for private well owners to test and treat their water after a well is constructed. All actions are voluntary. However, MDH encourages you to test your drinking water on a regular basis.
If your well was constructed after 1974, you may be able to find information about your well through the Minnesota Well Index at the link below.
For more information about your water quality, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.