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We need your help to further protect our waters in southeastern Minnesota

Safe drinking water is essential for the health and well-being of all Minnesotans. In southeastern Minnesota, approximately 300,000 people rely on 93 community water systems. More than 93,000 Minnesotans rely on private wells. The Minnesota Departments of Health and Agriculture and the Pollution Control Agency, along with local governments, are working together to protect drinking water supplies.

Unfortunately, too much nitrate — a form of nitrogen — is polluting Minnesota’s lakes, rivers and groundwater. On average, 158 million pounds of nitrate leave Minnesota per year in the Mississippi River. More than 70% of the nitrate in Minnesota waters comes from cropland, with a vast majority from commercial fertilizer applied on fields. The remaining sources of nitrate include wastewater treatment plants, septic systems, and urban runoff.

Too much nitrate is harmful to our health and environment

Nitrate in lakes, rivers, and streams is toxic to fish and other aquatic life. In drinking water, nitrate can be harmful to human health, especially babies. Consuming too much nitrate can affect how blood carries oxygen.

MPCA monitoring shows that many of our southern Minnesota rivers and streams have enough nitrate to potentially harm aquatic life, although no water quality standard has yet been established. Areas of southeast Minnesota are vulnerable because of shallow bedrock, sinkholes, and underground caves, which lead to exchanges between surface and groundwater resources.  

A southeastern Minnesota working group addresses nitrate

Minnesota state agencies remain committed to protecting human health and the environment and ensuring a thriving agricultural economy. State agencies and local partners continue to develop collaborative plans to address nitrate contamination in southeastern Minnesota and ensure residents have drinking water that meets the Safe Drinking Water Act standard for nitrate.

To further help address nitrate, the State of Minnesota established the Southeast Minnesota Nitrate Strategies Collaborative Work Group to: 

  • Build a shared understanding of the challenges and opportunities of addressing nitrate pollution in southeastern Minnesota. 
  • Deliberate and build consensus on ways to strengthen the long-term nitrate reduction strategies. 
  • Develop recommendations for improving, prioritizing, and implementing strategies, including strengthening communication and engagement activities, policy or funding proposals, or collaborative strategies to accelerate prevention and mitigation activities.  

The work group meets approximately once a month for day-long, in-person meetings from July 2024 through June 2025.

Members

The work group consists of residents and local leaders from southeastern Minnesota counties. Applications were taken from residents in the counties of Dodge, Fillmore, Goodhue, Houston, Mower, Olmsted, Wabasha, and Winona during April and May 2024.

  • Aaron Bishop, Fillmore 
  • Jan Blevins, Olmsted 
  • Doug Cieslak, Winona 
  • Micheal Cruse, Fillmore 
  • Andrea Eger, Houston 
  • Warren Formo, Goodhue 
  • Glen Groth, Winona 
  • Scott Hanson, Olmsted   
  • Bonnie Haugen, Fillmore 
  • Beau Kennedy, Goodhue/Wabasha 
  • Martin Larsen, Olmsted 
  • David Mensink, Fillmore 
  • Jeff Pagel, Olmsted 
  • Thomas Pyfferoen, Dodge 
  • Henry Stelten, Goodhue
  • Mark Thein, Olmsted 
  • Mary Thompson, Houston 
  • Justin Watkins, Olmsted 
  • Rita Young, Winona 

Additional information

Multiple groups petitioned the U.S. EPA under the Safe Drinking Water Act claiming that nitrate contamination in some water systems in southeastern Minnesota was endangering public health. In December 2023, MPCA worked with other state agencies including the Department of Health and Department of Agriculture to respond. The MPCA will work with other government entities, community partners, landowners, and residents to develop long-term solutions that protect drinking water, address nitrate contamination, and support responsible farming practices.